Last November 8, many of us sat stunned in front of our smart phones, televisions, and computers. In a clean sweep, the Republican Party had taken control of the Presidency, the Senate, and the Congress.
Many people called the election a death sentence for labor unions in this country, as the Republicans and their supporters outlined an agenda bent on destroying workers’ ability to organize, collectively bargain, retire with pensions, and have safe workplaces.
While Joint Council 7 did very well on election night in hundreds of local, state, and federal races, those victories were overshadowed by the bad news coming from Washington D.C.
I’m happy to report that since that time, Joint Council 7 has seen an unprecedented boom in new organizing and just wrapped up another very strong legislative session.
In December, more than 1,000 workers in Butte County Social Services and General Services joined Local 137. This important election victory nearly doubled Local 137’s membership and continues its impressive growth in representing public services workers for the northern part of the state.
Also that month, the 24 drivers, crane operators, groundsmen and mechanics at Pac Rail Services in Oakland voted unanimously to join Local 70. The workers service the Union Pacific Railroad at the Port of Oakland. Local 70 has long represented the workers at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s Oakland rail yard, so this is important.
Continuing Local 853’s unmatched Silicon Valley organizing, in February, 25 drivers for WeDriveU, a shuttle company that services Salesforce, joined the union. One month later, they were followed by 30 drivers for WeDriveU servicing LinkedIn and Twitter.
In April, 35 drivers and warehouse workers at Clock Freight in San Francisco voted to join Local 2785. This was the first freight organizing victory for our union in a long time.
In May, 215 shuttle bus drivers for San Francisco-based Chariot joined Local 665. This campaign saw incredible political pressure from San Francisco’s elected and appointed officials to win a card check neutrality agreement for the workers. The contract was ratified in September.
Local 665 followed that up with a long-awaited victory in Sonoma County, organizing over 400 solid waste and recycling workers at Ratto, an employer that had beat back several organizing attempts over the last decade. This was the last major nonunion waste and recycling company in the Bay Area, so it was important for protecting our contracts in other cities. As with Chariot, our new members ratified their contract in September.
In June, more than 1,800 workers at West Contra Costa Unified School District joined Local 856, solidifying Local 856’s position as the largest public employee union in that county.
Finally, in August, more than 1,200 skilled trades workers (518 in Joint Council 7’s territory) from the California State University system joined Local 2010, uniting them with skilled trades workers from several University of California campuses. Local 2010 also added 36 new members at UC Merced.
Politics played a key role in every single one of these campaigns. For example, in Sonoma County, Local 665 benefited from the hard work that Local 856 has done building relationships with the Santa Rosa City Council as all of the city employees are Teamsters 856 members. Plus, for the first time in Teamster history, we made endorsements in Butte County elections.
All of this political work builds up from the local level. Most of our state and federal legislators got their start in local government. That’s why it’s critical that we endorse candidates, make phone calls and knock on doors for them, and contribute to their campaigns. That all comes from our political action fund DRIVE, which stands for Democratic, Republican, Independent Voter Education. If you aren’t making voluntary contributions from your paycheck, please contact your shop steward or business agent to sign up.
Does it pay off? I say yes—absolutely. It is because of all of our hard work on the local level and the relationships we have built with elected officials as they work their way from city hall to the Capitol that this year California Teamsters wrapped up another incredibly successful legislative session. We helped win key bills that fund transportation infrastructure and affordable housing, increase transparency for prescription drug pricing, and more. Some are on the Governor’s desk waiting for him to take action and some have already been signed into law. Stay tuned for more on that later.
We live in uncertain times. There is a growing gap between the “haves” and “have nots.” Rents are sky-high and the dream of owning your own home seems further and further out of reach. Our children are being crushed by student loan debt. Health care costs keep spiraling. Our country, built by immigrants and always the beacon of democracy, is turning its back on our own people and the rest of the world. And what about the threat of climate change?
All of these questions and more are pushing workers into the Teamsters in greater numbers than we have seen in a long time, because workers know that there is no better protection on the job than a union. We need to continue to step up our organizing and political activism to face these challenges and make the opportunity of a union job available to all who want it.