Union Ensures DOT Crew is Warm this Winter

Thanks to union action, a Department of Transportation maintenance crew in Eastern Washington is no longer facing a frigid winter without a critical piece of gear: fleece liners for their winter coats.

"The liners are a matter of safety, so you don’t freeze to death.”

“Our temperatures have the potential to get to 25 below zero in the winter on a pretty regular basis,” said 19-year WFSE member and Local 1229 President Justin Tverberg, an equipment technician at DOT. “The liners are a matter of safety, so you don’t freeze to death.”

Tverberg, second from left, being sworn in as a member of WFSE's Executive Board and Chair of the DOT Policy Committee.

DOT crews perform crucial work to plow snow, maintain equipment, and keep roads and bridges safe across Washington.

Without these public employees’ dedicated effort, our state would come to a standstill. DOT workers need specialized gear to do their work: sturdy, weather-proof boots, safety helmets, high visibility vests—and in the depths of winter, fleece liners that can be added to workers’ jackets for added warmth.

“We have a lot of areas that get high density fog,” Tverberg explained. “So it’s extremely wet, extremely cold, for days on end. We call them ‘refrigerator canyons.’ You get to the bottom of a canyon where it’s very frigid.”

Most crews already have these fleece liners, which are considered basic gear required for the job. As temperatures dropped this winter, workers in a crew in the North Central Region, Area 3 (the only maintenance crew in the region without fleece liners) requested them.

Tvergberg was shocked to learn that the crew’s manager had denied the request.

“A maintenance superintendent took the stance that he was not going to pay for those because they were $100 apiece. He made the crew return them back to stores,” said Tverberg.

Several workers on the crew purchased the liners out of pocket, but Tverberg wasn’t going to let that fly. Active in his union for many years, Tvergberg is the DOT Policy Committee Chair.

Victory: "Collectively, we bargain, individually we beg."

He brought this issue to the next union-management communications committee (UMCC). DOT management didn’t respond immediately, but two weeks later, they returned with a decision: all maintenance staff would be provided with fleece liners.

“It was just one manager’s standpoint saying we’re not going to buy winter coats for people,” said Tverberg. Tverberg says union membership is important if we want to have a say in our working conditions. “Collectively, we bargain, individually we beg,” he said. “We’ve got to keep what we’ve got. We don’t want to lose anything—we want to gain.”

Get Involved in Your Union!

UMCC meetings are just one way WFSE members team up to work through problems and make their jobs—and public services—better.

Interested in forming a strong union at your workplace? Visit our Member Action Team (MAT) page and download the toolkit on starting a member action team. “Join your MAT team," Tverberg said. "This is how we get results.”

And if you haven't registered yet, make sure to sign up for your 2024 Lobby Day -- no workforce has more at stake in the decisions made by elected officials!