Strike Set at East Bay Parks for July 4th and July 5th
Workers’ Concerns Include Safety and Accessibility in Parks
The East Bay Regional Parks wouldn’t be an award-winning park system in California without dedicated rangers, naturalists, lifeguards, firefighters, trades workers, supervisors, clerical and other professional workers. AFSCME Local 2428 members watch over swimming areas, provide programming that introduces the public to nature and animals, and make sure that trails and picnic areas are maintained to provide an overall positive park experience. Parents with small children, the elderly and disabled users from every community in the East Bay are able to access the parks because of the work they do.
“We are the first responders when there are emergencies in the park. I got extra training to become a firefighter because I work in a pretty isolated area, and it can take a very long time for outside emergency service providers to arrive,” says Naturalist Cristina Garcia.
“For many kids, our parks are the main outdoor experience of summer,” said Ranger Jennifer Meissonnier. “One boy asked for a WiFi connection at my park until I pointed out all the interesting plants and animals nearby. His dad told me he now wants to be a ranger!”
But now, after voting down a contract put before them, AFSCME Local 2428 members are preparing to strike over the busy July 4th and 5th holiday, barring a successful completion of mediation on Monday, July 1st. AFSCME members are sending a strong message to the Board of Directors to recognize the sacrifices that were made over the last two contracts. Workers helped the District during the recession with concessions in health care and retirement. With the economy now recovering, workers are looking to keep pace with the rising cost of living in the Bay Area and offset new increases in retirement contributions.
“We are asking the District to take as good care of its workers and our families as we take care of our parks,” says Cliff Rocha, President of AFSCME Local 2428, who as a ranger with the East Bay Regional Park District is paid seventeen percent less than counterparts in other agencies. “The District is financially solid after we stepped up to help it weather the economic storm. Now it is time for them acknowledge their workers with a fair wage.”
Unlike most agencies, the Park District maintained a multi-million dollar annual surplus during the recession and it continues to do so. New park lands are being acquired and property tax revenues are expected to grow with the rising property values in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. The District is sitting on healthy reserves. The 2012 unassigned General Fund balance totaled $35.8 million, while the Board of Directors designated another $18.5 million for economic contingencies, for a grand total of $54.3 million of financial flexibility. This amounts to 55.7% of budget. A 20% reserve is considered very conservative; a 55.7% reserve shows a reluctance to adequately staff parks and to invest in a skilled workforce. Even park users assert that the District’s reserves have gone from healthy to hoarding and are standing by workers to ask to the District to provide an equitable contract with a fair wage to its workers.
“AFSCME members work hard to make sure that our parks are safe and accessible to all,” said Rocha. “We are a key partner in the success of the District, and we are asking to be recognized as such.”
Support East Bay Regional Park Workers! Go to afscme57.org to find the locations and hours of picket lines and other solidarity actions you can take.
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