Member Story – Jerome Washington


North state union leader helping to keep roads open and members protected.

The work of Caltrans—our state’s department of transportation—can be considered as essential as any of the state agencies our members work for, and they’re feeling the impacts of the “shelter in place” order in a big way.

Jerome Washington, an environmental planner with 15+ years of service, normally reports to work in the north state in an office of 350. But these days it’s completely empty, as the work of the department has all been converted to telework. However, while the office work is remote, other challenges abound.

“Caltrans has felt a big impact from the work restrictions, but our mission of keeping the state’s highways open and safe remains in place,” Jerome said. “Our essential work includes repair and maintenance and providing emergency services to all Californians on the road.”

“One of our biggest challenges, which I’m sure many state workers now face, is re-establishing connections between co-workers and work groups,” Jerome says, “You just can’t pop over to the next cubicle for a quick chat.”

At the same time, another key element of the Caltrans mission—road construction—is also feeling the effects of the coronavirus. “To begin with, we can’t leave projects in an unsafe condition.”  Caltrans is also mindful of the trickle-down economic effect of work stoppage when construction workers lose their job. “Construction can still be accomplished safely, with social distancing and common sense.”

Jerome is also the president of Local 1000’s District Labor Council 749. In this position he represents workers across the north state and applies his leadership by helping individuals and groups sort through the telework process, along with the process of ensuring management is providing a safe working environment for those who must report.

“There’s a fluid situation that’s additionally complicated by the interpretation of managers,” said Jerome. “It’s difficult to sort out the information we’re receiving, and we’re fighting to get clarity.”

Jerome Washington encourages his fellow members with these words: “We need to work with management to get through these challenges. Things are changing by the hour, and we need to give the managers grace and assistance to solve the problem and make the best of the situation.”

“I’m confident we’ll reach a good equilibrium as we go through the process,” said Washington, adding this recommendation: “If you feel like you’re being treated unfairly, speak up!”