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Local 1756-Arcadia, CA, Fights for Democracy on the Job

Emerging out of trusteeship, the new leadership of Local 1756-Arcadia, CA, knew they had to chart a new path forward. For years, it had felt like they were on their heels. Management roamed work yards, setting new rules on a whim and exercising complete control over every move a worker made. At Local 1756’s Arcadia yard, members were written up for not being available for mandatory overtime while on approved vacation. If members weren’t already discouraged from participating in the Union through “captive audience meetings,” the employer would use its ultimate weapon: firing pro-ATU workers. 

The Local had to find new ways to assert their members’ rights against authoritarian bosses and in the face of a deadly pandemic. They faced a choice: adapt to workplace dictatorship or fight for democracy on the job.


ATU Organizing Model

They chose to fight, and to do it in a new way: by deploying the ATU organizing model, which focuses on developing majority-participation of members in union activities.

In their first contract campaign, the Local activated 450 Arcadia members to fight back against Transdev’s punitive work guidelines. The campaign focused on what members confronted every day: pay and benefits that were not keeping up with the cost of living.

They opened the bargaining table, recruiting members to observe the talks via Zoom. Leading up to their contract victory, action committee members had hundreds of one-on-one conversations with their fellow union members, mobilized them to stage a walk-in on the boss, and demonstrated in front of Los Angeles City Hall. Near the end of the campaign, Transdev negotiators called Local President Lorence Bradford begging him to stop the pressure campaign. 

With a resounding victory over Transdev, the Local moved to make the organizing model a permanent fixture in their contract campaigns. They launched contract campaigns at the Alvord and Corona-Norco school bus yards, both run by First Student. Once again, they conducted structured one-on-one conversations and initiated open bargaining via Zoom.


Workers Have the Power

The structured organizing conversation is an effective way to help our members see that they have the power to improve their lives, and the Union is the machine they can use to do it. In their Alvord and Corona-Norco school bus campaigns, the Local had 285 one-on-one conversations to identify members’ concerns and issues, share information, and move members to action. These conversations resulted in petition actions and phone blitzes into the school district transportation directors. 

It is never enough to just talk with members about their struggles. The Local also needed to show members they were fighting for them at the bargaining table. Before adopting the organizing model, Local 1756 negotiations between employers and the Local had been done behind closed doors, shrouded in secrecy. Members seldom experienced the actual process of negotiations. 

The Local was successful in overcoming company disinformation and skepticism among workers by inviting them into the heart of the bargaining process. By conducting open bargaining over Zoom, the Local averaged 50-plus members at each session. Members heard first-hand how little management cared about them and were able to give direct feedback to the lead negotiators and stop any rumors from spreading at the company’s behest.  

The results speak for themselves. At Alvord, 100% of members voted to ratify their new contract; at Corona-Norco, 84% of members voted to ratify. In both cases, supermajorities of members turned out for the vote, demonstrating their unity.