The Electrical Worker online
October 2013

Big Municipal Win Rocks Calif. City
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Winning a campaign by an overwhelming vote is every organizer's dream.

Twenty years ago, Jaime Tinoco, a lineman foreman for the city of Lompoc, Calif., set his sights on winning a big union campaign to level the playing field between employees, managers and politicians in the working-class community 45 miles north of ritzy Santa Barbara.

Tinoco's dream turned real in June when the city's public works employees cast a 95-percent yes vote in favor of representation by Vacaville Local 1245. The clerical staff followed with an 86 percent yes vote.

"All the hard work we did really paid off," said Tinoco, crediting Local 1245 Organizer Fred Ross Jr. and Assistant Business Manager Ray Thomas with inspiring so many of his 125 co-workers to put their trust in each other after a chain of prior disappointments.

The powerful vote carried a combination of closure and hope to men and women who provide electricity and waste treatment in the city of 42,000, once known as the flower seed capital of the world, adjacent to sprawling Vandenberg Air Force Base.

They had maintained their morale on a long road marked by severe pitfalls — decertifying a former bargaining agent for ineffective representation, then organizing an independent union, the Lompoc Employees Association, that ended up being too weak to bargain in a tight economy.

"We were fed up and needed to shake the trees," says Shawn Wynn, a 20-year city worker. "I'm paying $600 per month for my family's health care insurance and we haven't seen a raise since I can remember," says the water plant technician.

Some of the city managers, says Wynn, used to be like "bad cops." Immediately after the union vote, Local 1245 pursued a complaint against a manager who had been charged with harassing female workers.

"The IBEW stood up and immediately took care of business. The manager no longer works here," says Wynn.

While the city couldn't escape the consequences of a national economic meltdown, says Tinoco, the mayor and city council helped to create a tight budget by opportunistically reducing electric rates by five percent before last November's election, despite the need for investment to keep up with costs, including employee benefits.

In July, as negotiations on a first contract commenced, Tinoco told Local 1245's Utility Reporter he expects some bumps in the road in the short term as the city adjusts to the new bargaining relationship, but that "long term it will be much better for city employees" to have a strong union behind them. The city's police and fire departments have been organized for many years and have fared far better than members of the new unit.

Tinoco has been talking to his co-workers and has addressed a city Democratic Party forum and a Local 1245 leadership conference advocating the need to elect more labor-friendly candidates to public office in Lompoc and cities across California.

A former U.S. Navy Seabee, Tinoco brought a powerful spirit to his organizing that extends to his youth, when he marched with United Farmworkers leader Cesar Chavez, says Ross.

His grandmother was a leader of a Mexican-American community organization, El Concilio (The Council) in Carpinteria. The group fought for and won bus service to nearby Santa Barbara and other public battles.

I was a "troubled young cholo (tough guy)," he says. But then he was introduced to mentors in the Migrant Education and Upward Bound programs.

With plans to retire in three years, Tinoco is encouraging some of his younger co-workers — as he was once pushed and mentored — to take initiative to protect the gains won over generations.

Looking far beyond Lompoc and its newest bargaining unit, Tinoco says, "We [senior workers] need to be more proactive with some of the younger generation to get them to give up their 'whatever, dude' attitude." And, in return, he says, unions need to recruit more women and minorities to truly unify their ranks and build the kind of solidarity seen in Lompoc.

Some of their co-workers were fearful of management retaliation for actively supporting the IBEW, says Wynn. They gained confidence when he, Tinoco and others stood up and "everyone realized we weren't blowing smoke."


An overwhelming IBEW vote by municipal workers in Lompoc, Calif., capped years of frustration over stagnant pay and rising health care deductibles.