San Bernardino County workers ratify first union contract – San Bernardino Sun

After nearly two years of fighting for higher wages, job protections and improved workplace safety, 55 San Bernardino County Housing Authority workers have ratified their first union contract with Teamsters Local 1932.

The county agency is governed by a board of commissioners, which is expected to approve the three-year agreement at its next monthly meeting on Aug. 9.

The maintenance and office employees say they have secured immediate pay hikes of up to 10% in the first year. The contract also includes protections against unfair workplace evaluations, discipline and discharge, and improved on-the-job safety, including an allowance to purchase job-appropriate footwear.

Teamsters representative Romualdo Sanchez said maintenance workers have not been offered an allowance to buy steel-toed work boots and have often been forced to buy what they can afford, which often isn’t as safe on the job.

In a statement issued Monday, the Housing Authority said the “collaborative discussion and efforts of our staff and management team have brought about positive change for the whole agency.”

Housing Authority maintenance workers currently earn a starting wage of $21.19 an hour. Under the new compensation schedule that will be boosted 5% to $22.27 an hour, the agency said.

Housing officials said pay increases will be implemented agency-wide for all of its 150-plus employees as the result of its regularly-scheduled biennial compensation study.

The Housing Authority of San Bernardino County is the largest provider of affordable housing in San Bernardino County, assisting more than 26,000 people — mostly seniors and others with disabilities, as well as veterans and children.

“Shelter is one of the most basic human needs,” said Noel Chichester, a housing service specialist at the Housing Authority and a member of the Teamsters negotiating committee. “Ifyou don’t have a home, it creates insecurity and instability that can take years to recover from.”

Sanchez said many Housing Authority workers are facing similar challenges as home prices continue to rise.

“This is an issue we’re seeing both countywide and statewide,” he said. “There is a real concern that, because of their wages, some won’t be able to make ends meet and won’t be able to afford food for their families — or pay for an actual house.”

Chichester said the Housing Authority agreed to implement a variety of policy changes once the union agreed to them, prior to the entire contract being in place.

“We’ve seen a lot of change already, which has improved our lives at work and allowed us to better serve the community,” he said.

The organizing drive to join a union got underway in late 2020 when many employees were working from home while COVID-19 lockdowns were still at their peak. Many union meetings, including negotiations with Housing Authority representatives, had to be conducted via video teleconference.

Natalie Harts, a business agent for Teamsters Local 1932, said the employees worked hard to make a union contract happen.

“I’m so inspired by what this group has accomplished, given all the obstacles and twists and turns over the last 19 months,” Harts said in a statement. “What this group had to endure has made them stronger, and this first contract is a great foundation to build from.”

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