They say we are paid in sunsets for working at East Bay parks. But sunsets don’t pay for groceries and school supplies. Like many other working people in our expensive region, East Bay Regional Park District workers are struggling to cover childcare, rent, and other basic necessities.
From park rangers to accountants, we East Bay park workers love our parks and park visitors. For nearly 20 years, I’ve worked as a park carpenter. I’m deeply proud of my work designing, building, and repairing our visitor centers, picnic shelters, and other critical park infrastructure.
I have put my heart and soul into this work, working side by side with our elected park board members to find solutions to modern challenges. So I was surprised to learn that the East Bay Regional Park District pays us 10% less than others doing the same jobs at 16 other agencies in our region. We don’t work at Tilden, Lake Chabot, and Contra Loma to get rich, but we do deserve respect and fair pay.
It is said East Bay Regional Parks are the crown jewels of Contra Costa and Alameda counties, hosting 25 million visits a year. Just a few hundred hard-working people care for the district’s 125,000 acres of parklands, 1,250 miles of trails, and 55 miles of shoreline. Our dedication contributes to nearly $200 million in regional economic activity and provides a range of benefits to residents, businesses, and visitors that total about $500 million annually.
During the pandemic, many visitors say our parks are critical to keeping them both physically and mentally healthy. We’re grateful to more than 4,000 park visitors who have shown their support by sending letters and emails to the East Bay Park District. Their messages have touched my heart, such as the person who said his marriage of 30 years depended on weekly long walks and talks on our park trails. Or the family who said they’ve learned as much in parks about science and history as they’ve learned in school.
Unfortunately, in part, because our pay is not competitive, the district has failed to fill more than 40 open positions over the last year. Those vacancies put more responsibility and pressure on the shoulders of the rest of us. Believe me, we aren’t happy either when we hear park visitors complain about closed trails, canceled programs, and bathrooms not being cleaned in a timely manner.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The park district reported a huge surplus of $26 million in 2020. And unlike other taxpayer-supported agencies, the East Bay Park District has a large “reserve” of more than $140 million that makes millions more each year off Wall Street.
Now, I and my fellow 600 East Bay Park workers — including rangers, lifeguards, educators and accountants — are voting this weekend on whether to authorize a strike, the first in nearly 50 years at our region’s 73 parks.
I’m voting to strike because I believe it’s important to stand up for myself and for my co-workers. We are not asking for a huge raise — for me, it would be about $5 more an hour to t0 make the same as others doing my job.
Now it’s up to Park Board President Dee Rosario and the six other board members. They are elected by the voters to represent the interests of all of us and to keep our parks running smoothly. They must direct the district to pay us fair wages because beautiful sunsets and views do not feed our families.
Readers can send their own messages to the park district board at www.eastbayparkworkers.org
Marcel Castanchoa is a carpenter for the East Bay Regional Park District.