On Feb. 26, 2018 the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) is expected to hear oral arguments on Janus v. AFSCME – a legal case that threatens to eliminate the right of unions to collect “fair share fees” in the public sector. The CEOs and powerful moneyed interests backing the case have one goal — to weaken unions and the Labor Movement so that they can get even richer at the expense of working families. The notoriously anti-union governor of Wisconsin put it succinctly when he said their intention is to “divide and conquer.”
The predictions are bleak, as both legal and labor experts believe that SCOTUS is poised to rule against working families in this case. Make no mistake – Janus is just one part of a concerted and far-reaching scheme to take away our ability to stand together for a voice at work and a better way of life. The corporate special interests are attacking our rights and our union so they can cut themselves an even bigger slice of the pie, and leave us with just the crumbs. We must fight back.
Building Power Through Member Engagement
In anticipation of the SCOTUS decision in 2018, IBEW 1245 launched a twelve-month internal organizing drive, with the goal of reaching all of our 2,500+ public sector members employed at 34 public sector employers. The centerpiece of the plan revolves around the development of Volunteer Organizing Committees (VOC) at every employer. The VOCs are comprised of member-leaders who have committed to holding one-on-one, face-to-face conversations with their co-workers, sharing their stories about the concrete difference that the union makes in their lives, and inviting their fellow members to re-commit to the union by signing voluntary membership cards.
Over the past six months, IBEW 1245 business representatives, organizers and VOC members have identified and trained more than 153 leaders at 22 of our public sector properties, and the results have been nothing short of phenomenal. VOC members have completed one-on-one conversations and card signing drives at 11 public sector employers, and as of this writing, outreach is nearly complete at 11 additional properties. The City of Lodi, the City of Lompoc, Merced Irrigation District, and Sacramento Regional Transit are among the properties that have completed the drive, and all succeeded in getting 93% or more of the members to re-sign with the union. Some properties actually achieved 100%! To date, we’ve engaged 76% of our membership, and are on pace to re-sign over 90% of our current membership in the public sector. We have also distributed over 2,000 “I’m in!” t-shirts and 3,000 stickers so the members can proudly show how they feel about the union.
Talking About the Union Difference
“A career with excellent benefits and retirement”
“The union saved my life because of the healthcare plan”
“Because of my membership in my 1245 union, I’m able to have the opportunity and security to provide for my wife and kids”
“My rep and co-workers saved my job when I was falsely accused”
”I value the brotherhood”
These are just a few of the many union-made differences that Local 1245 members have personally articulated during the course of the campaign.
While these individual stories are at the core of our engagement effort, perhaps the most powerful display of the union difference came from Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) VOC member Kim Camatti, who held up the 16-page pocket-sized SMUD contract from 1970, and compared it to the 120-page contract from 2017 – a visual depiction of the rights that they’ve won over 47 years of bargaining. Members, especially from the line department, were enthralled by the 1970 contract, and the contrast between then and now was incredibly compelling, The VOC at SMUD found this display so useful that they asked the union for an extra 100 copies of the little 1970 contract to share with co-workers.
“The most effective message with co-workers has been laying out all the benefits we get through the union – the right to organize/collective bargaining, double time, sick leave, rest period, pension, employer paid 401k, etc, and explaining the difference in doubletime-pay compared to time-and-a-half-pay work. One day alone is enough to pay for all those benefits… and it’s tax deductible,” said Justin Hirschi, a journeyman lineman and VOC member from SMUD.
“We’ve focused on member unity, what we have in common and what we stand to lose,” added Camatti.
Our 20-member VOC at the City of Redding is a case in point. Together with the members, our organizing team developed a detailed departmental map and converted it to wall charts. The VOC members each took assignments, began holding conversations with their co-workers, and tracked their progress. To date, our Redding VOC members have held more than 200 one-on-one conversations (89% of the active workforce), resulting in 188 (94%) who have signed the new cards. With fewer than 25 conversations to go, we aim to complete the effort in Redding before their February unit meeting.
At SMUD the organizing drive has gained tremendous traction, thanks to the work of organizing stewards and VOC leaders Kim Camatti, Eli Escamilla, Larry Gonzalez and Justin Hirschi, along with the 51-member VOC. Camatti, a materials/warehouse specialist, spearheaded the drive after attending two trainings sponsored by the union. Escamilla, Gonzalez and Hirschi, all experienced journeymen linemen, joined with Camatti and have galvanized their peers through one-on-one conversations. SMUD is IBEW 1245’s largest public property, with 553 members. As of this writing, 76% of our SMUD members have re-signed as voluntary dues-paying members. Camatti and Escamilla joined IBEW 1245 Staff Organizer Rene Cruz Martinez to share our organizing model and experience with 550 delegates at the annual Electrical Workers’ Minority Caucus (EWMC) in Detroit, Michigan in January of 2018.
On January 9, we held our third VOC meeting at the Modesto Irrigation District, following their monthly Unit Meeting. We provided updates and shared wall charts which listed all of the MID members’ names alphabetically. The VOC members identified each of their co-workers’ departments, and took assignments, logging them on the wall charts and their personal tracker. They kicked off the campaign by filling out and submitting their own cards. They reached more than a third of their members in just the first 48 hours, with 90 cards signed and returned right off the bat!
While the results of the one-on-one conversations have been outstanding, the VOC members have certainly encountered more than a few tough questions – not the least of which is “What has the union done for me lately?”
“How about the negotiated benefits we’ve received over the past 40 years?” Camatti said. “Hot meals, paid rest periods and something as simple as decent work gloves, apprenticeship programs, safety trainings and more.”
“[The union] has helped give us raises, better health benefits, representation when work issues arise, and a safer place to work,” noted Escamilla.
For Karri Daves, the lead VOC member at Modesto Irrigation District, the answer is simple. “Look at our new five-year contract with 3% wage increases, double-time and no take-aways on our medical or retirement; we just voted it!”
At the City of Redding, a member expressed frustration with the fact that “The union takes my dues and tells me to vote for some candidates I don’t like.” Electric Substation Foreman and VOC member Jeff Torres responded, “[The Union] always looks to support the most labor-friendly candidates. If you don’t like the candidates for other reasons, then vote your conscience.”
Reaping the Rewards, Strengthening the Brotherhood
One of the direct outcomes of the organizing drive has been identifying new “spark plugs” within our membership, and inviting them to take leadership roles. In the process, members have dug into their union history, lifted up their own stories, rediscovered the comraderie of the brotherhood and stretched themselves to take on tasks they never thought they were capable of.
“We’re giving members the chance to take ownership of their union,” declared veteran IBEW 1245 Organizer Fred Ross.
When asked what the best part of the campaign has been for her, Camatti replied, “Realizing how much of an IBEW brotherhood there really is here at SMUD. Watching our Volunteer Organizing Committee members (who are ALL field employees) step-up in helping to get 553 employee signatures as volunteer dues-paying members … And having the opportunity in helping create a more impactful IBEW presence of our unity onsite.”
VOC member and Journeyman Lineman Justin Hirschi declared, “So many of our former union brothers/sisters have lived and died to create all the rights we enjoy today. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to stand united with my union brothers and sisters to help fight to maintain those rights!”
Our work has garnered the attention of others outside of our local as well.
In addition to presenting our organizing model to the EWMC, IBEW 1245 organizers and lead VOC members have shared it with the Alameda Central Labor Council, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the Northern Valley Labor Federation, the California Labor Federation, and SEIU Local 2015. We have also been contacted by many more local unions and labor councils. In mid-February, we will meet with the leadership of IBEW’s 9th District to share our strategy and results.
As of Jan. 21, 2018, the following properties have completed their one-on-one conversations and cards:
- City of Lodi: 36 of 37 (97%) VOC = 4
- City of Lompoc: 151 of 161 (94%) VOC = 18
- TDPUD: 47 of 49 (96%) VOC = 2
- Lassen MUD: 23 of 23 (100%) VOC = 2
- SRT: 186 of 195 (95%) VOC = 16
- City of Oakland: 19 of 19 (100%) VOC = 1
- Merced Irrigation District: 81 of 87 (93%) VOC = 11
- City of Willits: 4 of 6 (67%)
- Shelter Cove: 8 of 8 (100%)
- City of Ukiah: 13 of 13 (100%)
- City of Berkeley: 8 of 9 (88%) VOC = 1
The following properties are still in the process of completing their outreach. Here are their results to date:
- City of Redding: 200 of 224 (89%) VOC = 21
- City of Healdsburg: 33 of 57 (58%) VOC = 8
- SMUD: 420 of 553 (76%) VOC = 51
- City of Alameda: 15 of 24 (62%)
- AC Transit: 27 of 29 (93%)
- Port of Oakland: 17 of 36 (47%) VOC = 2
The following properties recently launched or will be kicking off their efforts in early 2018:
- City of Santa Clara: began on Jan. 3, 2018. VOC = 6
- City of Vallejo & GVRD: VOC = 10
- NCPA: still building their VOC
- Modesto Irrigation District: 116 of 255 (45%) VOC = 19+
- City of Roseville: Still building their VOC
–Eileen Purcell, IBEW 1245 Staff Organizer