How We Won JVS Fair Contract Campaign

Dear Local 800 Members,

After a very long struggle, and the toughest contract negotiations Local 800 has faced with any agency in decades, we ultimately prevailed in our bargaining with JVS SoCal (formerly Jewish Vocational Service), and management both withdrew its draconian takeaway proposals and granted decent cost-of-living wage increases for our members. The Union also accepted sensible revisions to our CBA requested by JVS. The union membership voted unanimously in both units to approve the final agreement.

The story of how we prevailed has relevance for all of us, no matter what agency we work for.

We go forward now, hopeful that we can work in respectful partnership with JVS SoCal management to continue to deepen and expand the vital work of our agency, more important than ever in these times. As JVS GAIN bargaining team member Lisa Thomas wrote: “I believe in the GAIN project and I am passionate about the clients and the services we provide to our community. It was my intention to bring that same passion to my position as union shop steward and as part of the negotiating team. I wanted to make it clear to all that this was not  a ‘them versus us’ issue but an opportunity to find common ground that would result in a contract that would be as fair as possible to everyone involved. For the most part I believe we did just that.”

IN BRIEF

When JVS SoCal management came to the table (for two contracts, the admin/original unit and the GAIN unit), they brought as their chief negotiator an attorney who is Chair of the Labor Lawyers Advisory Committee on the Council for a Union-Free Environment. He is known to be tough in his pursuit of the Council’s anti-union aims.

It was our perception that JVS SoCal management and their attorney thought that the 75 JVS members of “little” Local 800 would feel overwhelmed, collapse under the pressure, and accept their proposals.

That did not happen.

WHAT WE WERE UP AGAINST

All too often, in the twenty-first century, non-profit agencies are functioning increasingly like large corporations. Their funding depends on the reputation of the good work they are doing in the wider community – which of course includes the work we are doing, with passion and dedication, while “behind the scenes” the gulf increases between the salaries and perks of upper management and the wages and workload of the rest of us.

Make no mistake about it: had JVS SoCal management been able to both roll back our rights and deny us cost-of-living wage increases, management at our other represented agencies would take note and might follow suit. This was a struggle not alone for our members at JVS SoCal, but for all AFSCME Local 800 members.

The following list is a partial indication of the takeaway proposals we faced at the negotiating tables for the two contracts:

  • Management proposed less than a 1% wage increase over three years – including a wage freeze for the first year, which extended back to July 2019 for the admin/original unit, even though all non-union employees had received a 3% raise for that 2019-2020 year. At the same time, they wanted to increase our share of the cost of health insurance premiums! JVS admin/original unit members had not received a raise since 2018 and GAIN members since 2019, although four top staff in JVS management took in over $1 million in salary + $200,000 in other compensation, including bonuses.
  • They insisted that some of our members did not belong in the union and needed to be taken out of the bargaining unit. Included on their list was Charlie Orlowski, Local 800 President since 2015.
  • They insisted on language to weaken our rights under the grievance procedure, and they wanted a new provision that would deny employees the right to file legal cases for violations of discrimination, sexual harassment, and disability rights laws (DFEH, EEOC, ADA etc.), forcing these employees to go to binding arbitration.
  • They proposed eliminating paid Jewish holidays for a large sector of the admin/original unit.
  • Amid COVID uncertainty, they wanted to deny severance pay for laid-off (or permanently disabled) employees, and they wanted us to waive workers’ rights to their vacation payout when they leave the agency.

Charlie Orlowski, Local 800 President and JVS SoCal Senior Accountant and member of the negotiating team, insisted from the beginning that “We aren’t going to allow management to tear up our contract and take away our union rights – for all of us working here now and for the union members that will work for JVS SoCal in the future.”

HOW WE WON A FAIR CONTRACT

Some union members have the misconception that winning a decent contract at the negotiating table is simply a question of the bargaining team’s intelligence, skill, and determination. Those qualities in the bargaining team are essential, but they are far from sufficient.

The bargaining team’s ultimate strength lies in the vocal determination and unity of the entire membership; only if management sees that the majority of members are united behind the bargaining team can progress be made. In addition, what we faced with these negotiations demanded that we call on our allies in the wider community as well.

We hired a contract campaign consultant to help with the mobilizations needed (Ian Schiffer, former Local 800 Executive Board activist, laid off from his job with the Jewish Federation).

Here is some of what we achieved in our contract campaign:

  • We made hundreds of calls, texts, and emails to check-in on our members. Over 30 members attended meetings and 20 attended contract negotiations. Over 80% of JVS GAIN members and over 90% of the JVS admin/original unit signed on to our fair contract petitions.
  • We identified and contacted stakeholders and mobilized support from Board members, donors, disability rights organizations, veterans, and economic justice community leaders and organizations.
  • We utilized social media and mobilized community pressure to urge JVS to live up to its mission and values. Over 8,000 people were reached via Facebook and Instagram posts.
  • We called on the Jewish community for support. Rabbi Robin Podolsky wrote an op-ed in the Jewish Journal, “JVS, Do the Right Thing and Fairly Compensate Your Workers,” and four Jewish organizations, over a dozen Rabbis, and 100+ Jewish community members raised their voices in solidarity with us.
  • Other community organizations also sent letters to JVS management: Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice; LA Forward; AFSCME DC36 Retirees; AFSCME Local 3339 (West Hollywood Municipal Employees Union); and the LA County Federation of Labor, which represents over 100,000 workers.
  • We reached out to elected officials at the city, county, and state level, highlighting the public funding provided to JVS. The West Hollywood City Council, led by Mayor Lindsey Horvath and Councilmember John Erickson, unanimously passed a resolution supporting L800 members, and LA City Councilman Paul Koretz sent a letter to JVS SoCal leadership.
  • Over 130 individual community letters were sent via digital action to the LA County Board of Supervisors, urging them to contact JVS management to settle a fair contract. We secured meetings with the staff of Supervisors Kathryn Barger, Janice Hahn, Sheila Kuehl, and Hilda Solis, and all four Supervisors contacted JVS management on our behalf.

After months of negotiations and our contract campaign, we were back to mutually respectful relations with JVS SoCal management, for which we are grateful. The JVS admin/original unit members will receive a 3.25% immediate increase in pay (3% retroactive to July 1, 2019, and the full 3.25% retroactive to July 1, 2020), another 1.5% increase on July 1, 2021, and 1.75% on July 1, 2022, a $500 bonus, plus improved severance pay benefits in case of layoffs. JVS GAIN employees will receive a 3%-5% increase over the 1 ½ year agreement. We also won improved sick leave and vacation benefits, and recall rights for laid-off employees.

One of our longtime JVS members wrote: “I want to send my deep gratitude to the whole amazing team, for all your incredibly hard work on our behalf. In spite of all the adversity you faced during these complex and long negotiations, you supported us in the strongest way possible, not only internally but also to the wider community. For all your unforgettable efforts, I really THANK YOU.”  

Rachelle Cohn-Schneider, a JVS Career Counselor in the admin/original unit, wrote: “Thank you ALL for your hard work and dedicated support of all our Union Members! I know this has been an extremely time consuming, emotional and difficult year for each of you and I really appreciate all the work each of you have done on our behalf. It's time to celebrate!

Congratulations and gratitude to JVS Bargaining Team members Charlie Orlowski, Lydia Buchman, Lisa Thomas, Georgino Ludwig, and Larren McGee, and to Gary Guthman, Local 800 Professional Rep, for his bargaining leadership and his tireless support of our members.  Thanks also to former Bargaining Team members Andy Sacher, Shonta Gregory, and Dominic Agbabiaka. We are also grateful for the unwavering support we received from AFSCME District Council 36 President Andy Jung, Staff Director Abdul Johnson, Communications Officer Daisha Benjamin, and Political Advocate Isabelle Franz. Lastly, a big thank you to Ian Schiffer for his dedicated and brilliant work for the contract campaign.

WHAT’S NEXT

The contract with Silverlake Independent JCC will be up for re-negotiation in August, and 2022 will see negotiations for contracts with the “Federation group” (Jewish Federation, BJE, JBBBS, and JCF), Jewish Family Service, and Westside JCC.

But the work of the union goes on year-round; it’s not just about the contracts. Come to one of our monthly Executive Board meetings to learn more. See this page of our website to read about us, your Executive Board, and check out the Calendar for the date and time of our next meeting – all Local 800 members are invited. (Members may participate fully in discussion at E-Board meetings; only Board members may vote.) There are open slots for representatives from all agencies on the Board; please consider joining us!

With solidarity and all best wishes,

The AFSCME Local 800 Executive Board: Charlie Orlowski, Richard Herlan, Lilia Arbona, Rickey Williams, Iris Manlapid, Alex Pagan-Mejia, Niki Cannon, Georgino Ludwig, Lisa Thomas