Local 853

Oakland zookeepers vote to join Teamsters

What happens when you have a motivated workforce, a solid organizing team, and connections with local politicians? The workers at the Oakland Zoo just found out when they voted on September 30 by a four-to-one margin to unionize. Teamsters Local 853 is proud to welcome the 55+ zookeepers at the Oakland Zoo and looks forward to negotiating their first union contract.

“These workers demonstrated tremendous courage so they can get a contract that addresses the issues they care about – respect, wages that reflect the cost of living, guaranteeing a high quality of life for the animals and their habitats, and a voice on the job,” said Pablo Barrera, Local 853 Organizing Director.

“It was an incredible experience,” Barrera adds. “These workers were knowledgeable and motivated. Of course, they were fearful of retaliation, because they had to contend with a union buster that zoo management brought in.”

As the zoo’s Senior Keeper, Jason Knight stays late to put animals to bed and do nighttime feedings. He couldn’t be more proud of the union drive. “The process of coming together, deciding to join the Teamsters, and winning the election with such amazing numbers has brought us all together. We look forward to moving into the future as a group,” he said, adding that “One thing that unifies us is that we all love the Oakland Zoo – the movement has been an act of love for the zoo and for each other. It’s been an incredibly positive experience all around.”

Barrera, Business Agent Mike Henneberry, and JC7 Political Director Doug Bloch all played a role in lining up support for the union drive from Oakland City Council Member Treva Reid and Mayor Libby Schaaf. In addition, several workers had an opportunity to meet with Congress member Barbara Lee who was visiting the Local 853 building. These elected officials did not hesitate to contact zoo management and demand they do the right thing for their workers.

As the group heads into negotiations, the union and workers say they were instrumental in helping pass Measure Y, an Oakland referendum to increase funding to the Oakland Zoo. “This bill will enhance educational opportunities, and elevate the standard of living for animals, expanding conservation work and increasing access to the institution for the city’s residents,” explained Barrera. “The union will make sure that the zoo’s increased budgets are shared among the zookeepers,” he added.

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853 members elect new leadership

In December, Local 853 held its first contested election of officers in thirty years after ten “white ballots” (elections by acclamation).

At the nominations meeting on November 7, two slates of candidates for office were nominated. From that moment, through to the final vote tally a month later, the two groups traversed the local and visited dozens of shops, meeting members and promoting their vision for the union.  When the nearly than 2,700 votes were sorted and counted on December 5, the choice was clear.

Congratulations to the Members Rising Slate and many thanks for the hard work and dedication of the Members First Slate.

The new officers begin their three-year term on January 1. You’ll hear more from them in the new year. Here’s the roster:

Teamsters Local 853

Officers — Jan. 2023-Dec. 2026

Secretary-Treasurer & Principal Officer

Steve Beck


Steven Lua


Ray Torres

Recording Secretary

Mike Henneberry


Joel Bellison

Gloria Segura

Andrew Nunes

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Drive-thru celebrates Local 853 members

In our largest drive-thru membership appreciation event yet, more than 800 members came by Local 853’s offices in Oakland (Oct. 29), San Jose, and Watsonville (Oct. 30). They filled out a card to enter the raffle and collected a Local 853 long-sleeved t-shirt.

The Local has held this event since 1993, but until the pandemic arrived, it was held indoors at a local school. Hopefully, we can get back to the indoor party venue soon so that staff can cook breakfast for the members and everyone has an opportunity to snack and chat.

Nine lucky members were selected at the November regular membership meeting on Nov. 10 to win a new TV or karaoke machine.

We all look forward to the day when we can get back to meeting in person, having the local staff make breakfast for the members, offering convenient flu shots, hearing the state of the union, and holding the live raffle. Fingers crossed that’ll happen for the 30th anniversary of these events!

Congrats to the lucky raffle winners

You didn’t have to be at the meeting to be a winner, and sadly none of the winners were. But since they had attended one of the three Membership Appreciation events, where they had filled out a winning raffle ticket, their win was just as valid.

Congratulations to select members at Gillig, Cargill, MV Transportation, Reliant Metals, Alhambra, Pak’nSave, and UPS who will get a TV or Karaoke machine delivered to their worksite.

Hopefully, 2023 will be the year that we can get out of our cars and get back to meeting in person. Watch for it!

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Enlisting Facebook to help make Canon Business do the right thing

Getting a union is not easy, as the 50 workers who run the mail room for Meta, the parent company of Facebook, will attest. They work for a contractor called Canon Business Services. Back in the fall of 2021, they contacted Local 853 determined to gain union representation because, according to Business Rep Pablo Barrera, “the management team was unprofessional, disrespectful, and acting as bullies. Wages and benefits are generally poor and the company shows obvious favoritism for the paltry wage increases it does offer a few workers. And COVID safe\"\"ty protocols have been lax at best.”

It wasn’t long before 78% of the workers signed cards saying they wanted a union. Instead of recognizing the union though, the company hired a union-busting law firm and pulled all kinds of shenanigans leading up to and including election day (December 15), where they posted armed guards at the entrance and had cameras monitor the voting area. By the time the votes were all counted, the election was tied, which usually means that the union lost.

However, the union filed objections with the labor board. In May, the Board did something rare: they issued a “Giselle Packing” ruling that asserts that when a union election is so tainted by the employer that it was not fairly held, the company must recognize and bargain with the Union as the exclusive collective bargaining representative. This only happens when the Board views the actions of the employer as being egregious.
“That was huge,” says Barrera, “or it should have been. But the employer continues to refuse to comply with the NLRB remedy.”  In mid-June, the workers unanimously signed a petition to Facebook/Meta stating, “We support the position of the NLRB and continue to authorize the union to serve as our bargaining representative with Canon Business.” A new NLRB hearing is set for September 12-14.

“Canon Business Services is not acting responsibly. We’ll do what we need to do, but Facebook needs to take a stand to ensure that the workers on its campus are treated fairly and with respect,” Barrera adds. Local 853 joined with several other unions, including SEIU-USWW and UNITE-HERE, as well as Silicon Valley Rising, to hold an action at Facebook/Meta on August 18. “We need for them to issue a ‘responsible contractor policy,’ so that when workers come together for a union, their wishes are respected. Facebook has leverage to make sure its contractors treat their workers right—they need to use it.”

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Winning JC7 Scholarship is a family affair

When Local 853 chose its winner of the 2022 Harry Polland/Bob Morales Joint Council 7 Scholarship, they didn’t realize how much that choice was a family affair. Nathan Sanchez, the winner, is the son of Paul Sanchez, who has worked at Southern Glaziers Wine and Spirits in Union City for almost 15 years, the last 10 as a Foreman.

Nathan graduated from Arroyo High School in San Lorenzo in June and plans to attend Chabot College to become a Dental Hygienist. Eventually, his goal is to be a pediatric dentist. “Rather than be the old guy that the kids don’t like, I want to be the ‘fun guy!’” Nathan said.

Nathan’s essay was a beautiful tribute to the role the union has played in the life of his family. After listing some of the many benefits of belonging to a union that Nathan’s dad had ticked off, including competitive wages, safe work practices, job protection, and more, Nathan concluded that “My family is part of an amazing family—the Teamsters.”

The decisive moment when Nathan realized how important a union could be was when his dad was out of work with an injury, and their family health insurance was suddenly canceled. This drove everybody into a panic, as Nathan’s mom’s life-saving health treatment was slated for the following week. Nathan’s dad called his business representative, Steve Beck, and within minutes, “my dad and my mom both got calls restoring our health benefits… The Teamsters did it…. Mom was able to get her infusions on time.”

As Nathan says, “Words could not express how important being a part of a union is. They have been lifesaving.”

At Local 853’s August membership meeting, Nathan’s whole family—grandparents, parents, and siblings turned out to accept the scholarship, and Nathan and both of his parents got an opportunity to thank the Local.

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Giving thanks to the union

There’s an old saying in the union world: 10% of the members take up 90% of the time of business reps. It’s always the squeaky wheel who gets the attention and not often does the union hear from members about the good job their doing.

So, when Business Rep Stu Helfer opened his email and got a thank you letter from Steve Townsend, it put a big smile on his face. Here’s the note:

“I know you don’t hear it much but I just wanted to say thank you! Thank you for being so tenacious about establishing our 401k back in the 90s. That commitment changed the future for me and for many, many men and women who took advantage of this program. I can start collecting some of that money in about 11 months (if needed) and it will make my retirement a breeze! Thank you, Stu, for your representation during your time in office and even before you got there as a shop steward!”

Your intrepid Connections reporter decided to get Townsend’s back story to see what inspired this note. Here it is:

Townsend started his career as a mixer driver for Pacific Ready Mix and became a member of Teamsters Local 315 in the early 1980s. When that company got bought, work slowed down. In 1994, he moved to Berkeley Ready mix and became a member of Local 291, which later merged with Local 853. After taking a “train the trainer” course, he started teaching Basic Hazardous Materials classes at the College of Alameda and at large corporations, which he continued to do while working as a mixer driver. When Hanson bought Berkeley in 2011, all the drivers were let go. “There’s nothing like the feeling of knowing that all is not lost, that the Teamsters have your back, and you will have another good Union job as soon as possible.”

In August of 2012, he got on with Cemex. “I drove a mixer, ran the yard, learned to batch, and even taught Safe Driving classes to drivers and management. I was able to retire in June of 2017 with a full pension at only 53 years old, due again to the forethought of our Teamster officials in implementing the PEER 80 program!”

Townsend says he’s been blessed by being a Union man throughout his life and the benefits just keep coming. “I have a monthly pension, lifetime medical (again, due to the forward-thinking of our union officials), and a fat 401k account.”

Thanks, Steve. Stu and the rest of us appreciated getting your thanks and your story. Continue to enjoy your retirement!

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Hallcon pays out big bucks

When Hallcon, a contractor that runs commuter shuttle buses for the tech industry, terminated a driver for falsification of records, the union fought back—and won!

Hallcon had fired a member for not showing up for work one day, but the union disputed that very fact. The company had stopped having members use the electronic timeclock during the pandemic, replacing that process with someone at the gate checking people in. The employee claimed they had arrived earlier than the gate person, which is why their presence was not recorded. While the company claims they phoned the driver twice, they never asked for the driver to come to see management.

“We fought this because the company claimed the driver falsified records, but there was literally nothing to falsify,” says Business Rep Tracy Kelley. “The contract says there should be a clear process of clocking in and out and it should be done by the employee, not by another person.”

The arbitration panel agreed with the union, and with that, the driver received a check for $33,000 to restore the wages, benefits, and 401K contributions they should have gotten all along. “The member took a job elsewhere, but this remains a good lesson for the employer,” says Kelley.

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AB5 is the law of the land

On June 30, the Supreme Court refused to hear a case. As a result, AB5 is the law of the land. Huh???

By setting out a clear definition of who should be an “employee” and who can be an “independent contractor,” AB5 is the law written to rein in the growing “gig” economy.

Local 853 Business Rep and Chair of the Nor Cal Construction Committee Stu Helfer played a part in writing the construction trucking language for AB5. “It’s always funny to me when someone on a construction pre-job meeting will chime in and say, ‘This is what the author of the law meant’ and I just smile, knowing that I was the part of the group that authored the construction trucking language in the bill,” says Helfer.

As soon as the law was passed in 2019, the California Trucking Association sued, alleging that they should be able to continue to misclassify truck drivers as independent contractors even though those drivers work at the beck and call of the companies. Over the next three years, the trucking association lost at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but they pursued the case all the way up to the Supreme Court. “I believe we would have prevailed on the merits of the case at the Supreme Court, given the argument that the opposition was making,” said Helfer, “Many were skeptical, given the current make-up of the court.”

The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case means the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling stands. And that means that all of the trucking companies that claim that their truck drivers are independent contractors must now treat most of them as employees, enabling the drivers to enjoy the benefits of sick leave, workers comp, and the right to organize. The presumption now is that an individual is an employee – it must be proven that the worker is truly independent…free from the control of and being in a different core business the hiring party.

This has been a 3-plus-year project but goes back long before the California Supreme Court’s “Dynamex” decision that led to this result. Helfer wanted to recognize former Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, who now heads the California Labor Federation, for doing such a great job on creating the law and pushing it to passage. He also recognized lawyer Scott Kronland, from the law firm of Altshuler Berzon, who shepherded the case from the beginning and California Attorney General Rob Bonta who took the case to the 9th Circuit Court.

Helfer says he plans to talk with the trucking companies that have worked with the union on project labor agreements and bring them all in to try to arrange for a master contract. “We’re potentially talking tens of thousands of new members if we can get that done.”

Helfer recollects: “In 2012, I played a part in rewriting Labor Code Section 1720.3, which fixed the law to make sure that the off-haul work from construction sites was covered under prevailing wage law. In 2015, I did AB219 which is now codified as Labor Code Section 1720.9; this one covers prevailing wage requirements for ready-mix drivers. My work on AB-5 is now Labor Code Section 2781(h)(2). I’ve been working on this matter for around twenty years, so it feels great to be at this point now.” he adds, with a slight smile. “Who knows what might be next….”

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Saving Watsonville Hospital (and more than 50 Teamster jobs)  

Business Rep Steven Lua reports that in December, Watsonville Community Hospital filed for bankruptcy. If this, the only hospital in Watsonville, were to close, it would be devastating not only for the 55 Teamsters who work in the business department, but for the entire community.

Lua and the Teamsters sprang into action. Working with Joint Council 7 Political Director Doug Bloch and with the Matt Broad, advocate for the California Teamsters Public Affairs Council, they worked with community leaders to help establish the Pajaro Valley Health Care District and raise $25 million from the State to use toward the $60 million purchase price of the bankrupt hospital. As of September 1, the new health district will own the hospital, and every Teamster member will be able to keep their job and their benefits.

Lua wanted to also thank the Beeson and Rosenfeld law firms for playing a huge part with ensuring fairness out of the bankruptcy. “Specifically, Catherine Holzhauser with Beeson did a great job on filing claims for all of our members.”

The hospital is home to 600 employees and four different unions. “This was a win for all unions involved and it was great working alongside the other unions to make it happen,” Lua adds. “It really shows how coming together in Union can have such an incredible impact on an entire community.”

Congratulations to everyone who made this decisive victory happen!

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Surprise closure and quick action for workers at AB (Oakland)

Sadly, the big Anheuser Busch (AB) distribution facility in Oakland got sold and suddenly closed in July with minimal notice. Local 853 represented 113 drivers, warehouse workers, draft technicians, merchandisers, and salesmen at that facility. “We only had about two weeks\’ notice, which, besides being terrible for our members, didn’t even meet legal requirements,” says Business Agent Efren Alarcon.

As soon as the union was notified, Alarcon and Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Hart swung into action. They were able to get 27 members new jobs at Matagrano, in South San Francisco, which is a union facility. Another 20 went to Markstein in Antioch, which is currently non-union, but Hart says, “we now have 20 ins to work on organizing over there.” Other business agents and Local Unions also helped identify job openings at similar facilities; a few members were able to get union positions at the Fairfield Budweiser plant and at Coca-Cola in San Leandro.

Most important, Alarcon negotiated a great severance package that includes more than one week of wages for every year of service for most members, six months of medical coverage that will carry them through the end of March 2023, and cashing out not only their vacation time, which is legally required, but also their sick time, which for many was about 30 days. In a very smart move, in order to reduce the tax hit on these large payouts, the union negotiated that the different sources of funds would be paid over a six-week period, instead of in one lump sum. Finally, the company agreed to a $7500 retention/training bonus to help members attain training so they could get Class A License training or other re-training.

“A closure is a closure and it’s never nice,” said Alarcon, recognizing that only about half of the members seamlessly went into new jobs. “But I thank all of our Business Reps and sister Locals for working to help these members, and that effort will continue until we get as many of them jobs as we possibly can.”

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