At long last, WPEA wins proper rain gear for outdoor workers at DNR
By AUBREI FRANKLIN
Special to The STAND
OLYMPIA (Jan. 26, 2024) — In a state renowned for its lush greenery and frequent rainfall, the irony of outdoor workers in Washington lacking proper rain gear is lost on no one. And yet, the story of how Department of Natural Resources (DNR) employees represented by Washington Public Employee Association/UFCW 365 (WPEA) finally won proper rain gear this week is a tale that spans two years.
The journey began with a January 2022 visit to the Cedar Creek Correctional Facility in Thurston County, where forest crew supervisors provided a tour. While exploring the grounds, a coat rack filled with well-worn and near-expiration rain gear caught the attention of the WPEA’s Julia Thurman-Lascurain, who represents DNR employees.
Shockingly, the forest crew supervisors disclosed that they purchased their own rain gear because the agency failed to supply it. Recognizing the absurdity of the situation, the union initiated efforts to address this overlooked need.
Assurances were made that the issue would be resolved in a matter of weeks. However, the anticipated solution did not occur, leading to a persistent advocacy campaign. Between the initial conversation in January 2022 and May 2023, the rain gear issue became a recurring topic in every meeting with DNR management.
Despite the constant reminders, progress remained elusive until June 14, 2023, when a breakthrough occurred at a union meeting where the agency finally approved the provision of rain gear for outdoor workers. Despite the approval and promised implementation before the rainy season, it still had not materialized by Oct. 2. Members were still without rain gear during the actual rainy season.
DNR’s response was the formation of a committee to discuss rain gear options and create a menu for members to choose from. The specifics, including vendor selection and delivery logistics, were yet to be worked out.
Fast forward to this week.
On Jan. 24, thanks to ongoing collaboration with WPEA Shop Stewards and input from staff throughout the agency, DNR has committed to providing rain gear to employees as part of their Personal Protective Equipment program. Eligible employees can select one top (jacket) and one set of bottoms (pants or bibs) from the DNR Supply Catalog, with supervisor approval required.
Through the commitment to safety and teamwork by WPEA DNR Shop Stewards, outdoor workers in the rainiest state can now look forward to being equipped with proper rain gear. WPEA celebrates this significant step toward ensuring the well-being of those who tirelessly contribute to the state’s natural resources.
Aubrei Franklin is Marketing & Membership Coordinator for the Washington Public Employee Association/UFCW 365 (WPEA). Learn more at wpea.org.