Calif. Manufacturing Workers Score First Contract
October 22, 2014
At Sacramento-based company Sunoptics, employees craft products that are ahead of their time – high-tech skylights that can help replace most electric lighting with natural sunlight for offices and homes.
Companies from Coca-Cola and Siemens to local school districts and police departments are using the systems to cut energy bills, slash carbon emissions and reduce pollution.
But while Sunoptics is making huge strides toward a greener future, many of its policies regarding its workforce have been stuck in the past.
“I was excited to work there, until I realized that the managers could talk to you however they pleased,” said Carrie Grace, a three-year employee who operates a thermal machine that molds the skylight lenses. “Rather, they would talk down to you in front of everybody or pull you to the side and really attack your feelings. It just felt like you were always walking on eggshells. You could get fired at any given moment for whatever.”
Instead of relenting, Grace and her co-workers got active and voted overwhelming in January for union representation by Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245.
Now, after months at the negotiating table, employees voted and approved their first contract Sept. 9.
Major gains include increased pay, two additional holidays, a seniority system and a grievance procedure. According to Local 1245’s website:
Most Sunoptics employees had not seen a raise in five years, so for them, wages were the top priority. Under the new contract, all Sunoptics workers will see a wage increase, lump sum payment or both over the next two years.
Unhappy with the company’s wage proposal in the first contract offer in July, employees voted “no” by a slim margin. Local 1245 negotiating committee members doubled down on their efforts to help secure the Sept. 9 vote, which was 62-7.
“The feedback we got from the employees was very positive,” said Local 1245 business representative Cruz Serna, who teamed with assistant business manager Ray Thomas and Sunoptics workers Todd Davis, Chris Hanh, Mauricio Centeno and Pamela Pendleton for negotiations. “They acknowledge the major changes and improvements to their working conditions, and even though they did not get all of the wages they had hoped for, what is more important right now is to have a contract in place and to look forward to the future.”
Grace said she was happy with the wage increase and better job security. “Plus, we get to have a voice in the company,” she said.
Grace recently traveled to San Antonio to attend the 2014 Women’s Conference. During a caucus meeting for the Ninth District – which includes all workers in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and the Pacific Islands – retiring Ninth District International Vice President Michael Mowrey officially swore Grace into the Brotherhood, to applause and cheers from the delegates.
“I'm excited because I know there are many opportunities to come,” Grace said. “I know this is just the beginning.”
Read more reporting and learn more about specific contract gains at Local 1245’s website.