Worksite Wins Make a Real Difference

Article Published on May 5,. 2023

Union bargaining is a transformative moment for our members and represented employees. It is the highest expression of the collective efforts of state workers to build power in their workplaces. But even with our Bargaining Unit Negotiating Committees (BUNC) at the table, our day-to-day work of representing workers on the job continues in real time.

John Richards, a member of the Bargaining Unit 3 (BU 3) has been an advocate for his coworkers navigating the voluntary personal leave program for years. He engages with BU 3 members throughout the state. “Whenever we encounter an issue on this, we send them over to John,” said BU 3 Chair Robert Holtz.

During preparations for a negotiation session, John received a text from a steward at Kern Valley State Prison with an urgent issue regarding the Voluntary Personal Leave Program (VPLP). A manager was preventing a member from using their leave. “John’s look said it all,” said Holtz. “I knew he was committed to do something about it before the words came out.’”

The BUNC team made the decision to immediately reach out to the member. By working together, they were able to bring resources to the member in crisis. “Even in the middle of bargaining, we’re paying attention and representing our members in their workplaces,” said Richards. “We threw a lot of experience at the VPLP issue and resolved it rather quickly. We showed them the articles and we were able to get into this powerful process that gives workers more control when their bargaining team negotiates with them.”

When we negotiate at the table for more rights, stronger protections, and better pay, all of those issues end up in the hands of our members. We have to defend our contract protections at the table and beyond.

“Not only are we bargaining for more, but we’re taking advantage of what we have already and using it if our members,” said Richards. “When they’re getting denied, we have to act on that and talk to management. We’re doing what we can to take care of Bargaining Unit 3 right now. There’s a lot of mental health issues; people are so stressed out, and making this understandable is crucial.”

Bargaining and representation are at their most powerful when they are led by teams that collaborate with each other to strengthen the collective effort. “We work better as a team than we do on our own,” said Holtz. “Wendy Galimore, who leads an organizing team for BU 3, disseminates information throughout the unit, which allows us to use the power of communication to respond and react promptly to issues that come up. All of us are going to continue this work once we get through bargaining so that we can continue to leverage the experience we’ve developed handling these kinds of critical issues.”

As part of this fight to protect members’ needs, the BUNC team submitted changes to the State on Tuesday, May 2, strengthening the contract language regarding VPLP so that people wouldn’t find themselves in this situation again in the future.

“When I look around my workplace, I see these young parents dealing with unbelievable stress,” said Richards. “Bargaining Unit 3 hasn’t been paid for their essential worker pay, and many of them got Covid without the option to telework. We’re truly battling for respect in the workplace. These people need to be able to take time to recover what they’ve been through, which is why the voluntary leave program is so important to us.”