The union wasn’t always seen in a positive light around the breakroom in the Parking Enforcement Office at UCLA. “When I first started working, the union was not respected. But now, I see that the perception has changed,” says John, a Parking Enforcement Officer at UCLA. What has changed? Workers came to realize that they were the union.
“I haven’t always worked union jobs. I use to work in right-to-work Arizona, and talk about getting screwed.” He goes on to explain that the difference has been like night and day. He was able to see the difference that being in a union makes after having experienced similar scenarios in both Arizona and California. In his non-union job in Arizona, John’s schedule was all over the place: “one day I would work 13 hours, no overtime pay, and then the next day, I would only get 2 hours. I wasn’t getting a raise. It really was all based on favoritism.” Then John came to California and got his union job at UCLA. “I had recently started my position when a better schedule opened up. After pushing back for clarification on our new seniority language, I was able to land the shift I wanted, get a raise, and was able to spend more time with my family. It was a total win for me.” From that moment on, John got more involved and saw the power of being in a union.
John says that as a Black man his job enforcing parking laws can be difficult because some folks use coded language to let him know “he can’t tell them what to do.” He goes on to say, “it feels rewarding to maintain a smile on my face, not get flustered, give the ticket, and move on. It’s rewarding to know that you’ve beaten the odds because some people talk to you with a lot of privilege and disrespect. I’m just doing my job, and by me being here I show that there is some diversity in this job.” John says he hopes to inspire young people by demonstrating that African Americans are still present in the community. He hopes that by doing his part in the workforce he is able to counter the criticism and stereotypes.
John Tomkies is a Parking Enforcement Officer at UCLA, a father of a kindergartner, and a proud Black homeowner in a predominantly white neighborhood.