District Council 57

AFSCME’s Dee Rosario Running for Park Board to Fight for Park Rangers and All East Bay Working Families

Dee Rosario is a retired park supervisor who worked for the East Bay Regional Park District for nearly four decades, and he was an active member of AFSCME Local 2428 since Day One. He is now running for the Ward 2 board seat at the Park District, and AFSCME Council 57 has endorsed him for the race.

We recently caught up with Rosario to find out why he is running for office and how his involvement with our Union inspired him to take his committment to public service to another level. 

Q: How did you end up working at East Bay Regional Parks district?
I started during my senior year at Cal State Hayward and stayed for 37 years. I was applying for the teacher credential program when my mom called and said, “Hey, I need you to take off work, and I need you to be able to watch your three younger siblings.” I was the head of household for my family, so I did what I had to do. My mom sold her house and gave me $2,000, and I was able to put down a down payment on a condo right across the street from Kaiser. My sister and I became the parents of our younger siblings, and we raised our brothers and sisters until I was well into my 30s.

So, here I was, I couldn’t work and I had to drop out of school. That summer, however, I got a job at the park district as a temporary groundskeeper. The following year, I made permanent (groundskeeper) and never looked back.

Q: Can you talk about Friends of Sausal Creek?
It was my last year as a supervisor at the park district and at Redwood Regional Park, and I had a volunteer from Belgium come to me with an idea. He said that he wanted to see how volunteers work for an agency, and I actually wanted to see what it was like to work for a nonprofit. I met a couple of the people in the community and stumbled upon Friends of Sausal Creek. Sausal Creek is about 1,200 acres and 7 to 8 miles long, and it starts in the Oakland hills and goes all the way into San Francisco Bay. When I met the group, the executive director for the organization said, “When you retire, would you like to sit on our board?” So I attended a meeting, and I really liked what they were about. Now I find myself two years later as the vice president.

The main purpose of Friends of Sausal Creek is to enhance the watershed, control erosion, get rid of nonnative species and replant native species. This year, we got a grant from the National Park Service to create a walkable watershed from I-580 all the way to Fruitvale Bridge. Most of projects that we do are up above I-580, so now we’re trying to develop programs below I-580 and really involve the community. It’s an exciting time.

Q: Why is having a union important, and why were you involved?
During the years prior to the time I got there, AFSCME, along with the Coalition of Women sued the park district to hire minorities and women. That’s how I got my foot in the door. Ever since, I’ve felt indebted to the Union. Shortly after I passed probation, I became a shop steward, and I did that for 18 years. Then I became chief shop steward, and shortly after was elected to the AFSCME Local 2428 board. I also served as president for a term.

You want to know why unions are important? Unions are probably the most vital element of this society. When we’re together, we’re the strongest voice for working families. That’s one of reasons I’m running for the Board. The people working on ground are the face of park district, and they’re not getting the respect they deserve from management and the Board of Directors.

Q: Is that what you feel like is happening now with the park district?
Well, during the last negotiations, they basically wouldn’t talk to anyone in the Union, and they were trying to take away the CPI (Consumer Price Index)-based cost-of-living salary increases from our MOU. We have nothing else to base our salaries on. In Local 2428, in any particular position, we only have three steps on the salary schedule. So after three years, you’re done as far as salary increases go, other than the COLA (cost-of-living adjustment). So we have depended on COLA increases to keep up with the economy for our families. On the contrary, management now has the equivalent of ten steps on the salary schedule. Meanwhile, there are park rangers who are struggling, living paycheck to paycheck, and it’s hard to watch. So when I left, I wanted the people behind me to have the same opportunities I had.

Q: So what happened with the 2013 contract negotiations?
We were ready to strike, right before the Fourth of July. We had people who weren’t remotely active with the Union signing up for pickets in different parks, and it was great. I felt real solidarity.

We settled right before midnight on the Fourth of July, when the Board didn’t want to face a labor dispute during one of the busiest holidays for the park district.

Q: What did you have to do to prepare to run for office and what’s one thing that surprised you about this?
I attended a lot of trainings. I attended the first value-based leadership training organized by the Central Labor Council and Oakland Rising, and then I attended trainings put on by the Democratic Party.

One of things that surprised me was how much money you needed to raise. For a down-ballot race that isn’t paid, I’ve raised thousands of dollars. But when you have to do something like put out a mailer, it still costs a lot of money. So we’re trying to get in larger circles and get friends of friends to donate small amounts of money. Of course, the Union has been great in supporting my campaign, and other unions have supported me as well.

Now we have to work to Get Out the Vote throughout the district to make sure our supporters make their voices heard.

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