Calif. ‘Green Collar’ Workers Vote IBEW
January 21, 2014
Following a dramatic campaign that tapped the resources and verve of workers and organizers, 78 employees at Sunoptics – a Sacramento-based manufacturer of high-tech skylights – are the newest members of Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245.
With nearly 100 percent participation, workers voted by a two-to-one margin to unionize in a Jan.10 NLRB-sponsored election.
"This is an excellent win for these workers,” said Lead Organizer Jennifer Gray, who spearheaded the campaign. “It’s a great feeling knowing what this means for them and their families’ futures.”
Following the vote, VOC member and welder Pam Pendleton said, “I felt something I hadn’t felt before,” she told Local 1245’s blog:
The employees produce the company’s innovative “prismatic” skylights that maximize natural daylight for office and residential spaces. Despite the otherwise forward-thinking vision of the company, which promotes its commitment to reducing carbon dioxide emissions through green technologies, Gray said management had been taking a low-road approach to employee relations and job safety.
“There was no real training for the workforce,” she said. “You would just learn from watching someone and that was basically it.” Gray said this was a potentially dangerous mix in an environment where welding, sawing and other tasks are part of the job.
Looking to boost their safety and working conditions, two employees reached out to the IBEW late last summer. The workers had learned that Sunoptics’ parent company – Acuity Brands – already employed IBEW members elsewhere in California, as well as in New York, Indiana, Minnesota and Georgia.
With help from Local 1245 veteran organizers Fred Ross Jr. and Eileen Purcell, Gray began connecting with workers and forming a volunteer organizing committee. From initial meetings of one or two people, the VOC swelled to a solid 15-member unit around the holidays.
From there, Gray said, employees, organizers, and Local 1245 activists who volunteered for the campaign crafted a full-court press. Local 1245 leaders launched a page on the local’s website specifically for Sunoptics workers. Social media tools like Facebook dovetailed with house calls, home visits and handbilling to get the word out to the workers. And a letter from International President Edwin D. Hill to management helped make the IBEW’s case while inspiring the employees, Gray said.
All of this helped beat back an anti-union effort rife with scare tactics, misinformation about dues and the threat of closing the facility. “Management told the workers, ‘Don’t make any large purchases right now,’ because their jobs might be going away,” Gray said.
But the workforce was undaunted.
“They were a real unit,” Gray said of the VOC, which was representative of the wide array of diversity at the plant. “We had every department and shift represented, and we translated all the fliers for the Spanish-speaking workers. Everyone had a voice.”
The new members are currently mobilizing for first-contract talks.
“I’m so proud the workers got what they deserved,” said Local 1245 organizing steward Jammi Juarez after the vote count was announced. “It’s a hard feeling to describe, and I think no matter how many times you go through it, it’s indescribable. It’s just joy.”
Read more at Local 1245’s website.