Employee Resource Group Started by Local 101 Members at Water District Gives Millennials Stronger Voice on the Job

About a year ago, two young AFSCME Local 101 members noticed a startling trend at the Santa Clara Valley Water District: the average age of employees at the water district was 50.

Many of those Baby Boomer workers have begun to reach retirement age, and as they retire a lot of institutional knowledge has been leaving with them. At the same time, the water district has seen an influx of fresh new workers joining the ranks straight out of college—and yet many old traditions remain.

Ricardo Barajas, 33, a public information officer, and Sami Buglewicz, 26, a management analyst, noticed an opportunity.

They are now celebrating the first year since they formed DRYP (which stands for Developing and Recognizing Y-Generation Professionals), an employee resource group for all employees with a focus on millennials, which has grown into a new way that young workers can find support and let their voices be heard on the job. The group is also an example of how AFSCME members are finding innovative ways to engage young public service workers with the Union.

“At workplaces like Google, coworkers tend to be fresh out of college. At government organizations, such as the water district, we have employees with vast amounts of project knowledge that have been gathered over the years,” Barajas said. “With this new influx of younger talent, it’s important to not just see the challenges that a multi-generational workforce presents, but also the opportunities.”

Knowing the challenges, Barajas and Buglewicz began to ask themselves: “How do you get over some of those generational hurdles to help millennials grow as professionals and leverage the wisdom that already exists?”

“With DRYP, we have formed a sense of community that allows staff from all division areas to get input or feedback from each other and aid in their success,” Barajas said. “It’s a win-win situation.”

Barajas and Buglewicz are board members of DRYP, and the group includes workers represented by the other unions at the water district as well. Lizzie Mercado, an associate civil engineer, Jessica Bolaños, an assistant civil engineer, and Keneth Jackson, a management analyst (Local 101) also form part of the DRYP leadership group.

Their efforts have produced more than just a way for employees early in their careers to connect with their peers at work. The employee resource group, which is the largest at the district and has grown to 80 members, has made it one of its main goals to bridge the gap between the more seasoned workers who may have more institutional knowledge and those who are just coming up in the ranks, Buglewicz said.

The result: employees early in their careers like Barajas and Buglewicz feel like they have a stronger voice at their workplace.

For example, Barajas said, the group has been able to organize informal meetings with management where they have been able to pitch innovative ideas about government work that model the Silicon Valley environment to which their generation has become accustomed—ideas that could advance the future growth of the water district.

“We’ve been able to have discussions like, ‘Should we have smaller cubes? Do we want more laptops? Do we want to work more from home?’” Buglewicz said. “We’re part of this committee that is changing the way the district is going to function.”

The Employees Association, the largest union in the water district and second largest in Local 101, has given its full support to DRYP because the group has made it easier to have conversations with young workers about the value of being a union member.

Employees like Francisco Gutierrez, 32, an accounting technician, have viewed the Gen-Y resource group as an asset because it has made the water district a place where management actually uses his input to make changes in how the district is run. He said he views the Union in the same way and, just like with DRYP, he’s looking to get more active.

What’s more, the support group has become so popular at the water district that employees as old as 60 have decided to join.

Keneth Jackson, who has been working at the water district for 15 years, is one of those veteran workers who joined DRYP. For him, he saw it as an opportunity to have fun with coworkers and change up some of the old traditions that sometimes pit seasoned workers against younger professionals.

His hope is that more Baby Boomer employees support DRYP and the Union as they work to make the water district a better place for everyone. 

“I think it takes a group of older employees to really look at them as equals and take them under our wings and say, ‘Here are the benefits and here’s why we fight for these things,’” Jackson said. “That’s what the (AFSCME) Executive Board is doing, and I know that’s what Ricardo and Sami are doing.”