“We’re making it better for our members by being at the table.” Interview with Ted Lam

We sat down with Ted Lam (he/him/his), Administrative Vice President and Delegate for the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) Chapter. He told us about the work that he does and shared why he is proud to be a part of IFPTE Local 21 for our Union Pride Campaign.
The Union Pride Campaign is an effort intended to share some of the amazing work that our Local 21 members do every day. We are highlighting members from several Local 21 jurisdictions, along with a variety of different classifications and many of our members who continued to work tirelessly serving the public during the global pandemic.

What is your job title and how long have you been a member of Local 21?

Ted Lam: I am a Maintenance Superintendent for EBMUD. I’ve worked here for 20 years, and I’ve been a member of Local 21 for 15 years.

How does your work impact the public?

TL: I make sure that our group maintains the system that pumps water to over 900,000 customers in the East Bay, and we ensure that the water is safe to drink as well.

How does your family/upbringing impact your values?

TL: I am a product of the military so that’s how I was raised – I spent about 21 years there and I was doing about the same things as I’m doing at EBMUD as I was in the Coast Guard. Military bases are like a city. They have water systems and electrical systems – we helped maintain them, as well as the hangars where aircrafts were worked on. I value high quality of work, attention to detail, and having a good team around – which is what I have here.

Do you volunteer with other organizations in addition to L21?

TL: I’m a part of the Governance Committee for Indivisible East Bay. I started getting heavily involved in the second half of 2017. We are involved nationally, directly helping elect senators in Nevada, Arizona, and Georgia over the past four years, and we are interconnected with other chapters across the state and country. I’m also involved with my son’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA).

Why are public services important? Why do they need more investment?

TL: The mission of public service is what I live by: doing something for a greater good. Working here at the water company, I see the results of good quality work and good public health everyday. I know that the people that I work with are very committed to the work that we do. Working with committed folks makes your job so much easier.

Is there anything that surprised you about being a part of a union?

TL: I’m surprised at how much day-to-day attention there is per chapter. Lots of members have all of these questions, and they don’t always know how to navigate through their agency’s policy procedures, what is in their MOUs, or what is allowed and not allowed by management. I get 2-3 calls each week and these conversations with the members help me develop a relationship because we solve these everyday problems together.

How can being in a union help workers during this unprecedented time?

TL: Being in a union has helped me realize that we have a lot of input in COVID-19 safety protocols: whether it be reporting to work, the day-to-day interaction with management and how policies are implemented, and our telecommuting policy that we are actively working together with management on now. They are listening to us seriously, and without a union, that would not be possible. We’re making it better for our members by being at the table.

Are there examples of instances in which being in a union has helped you advocate for yourself or for others?

TL: Being in a union has taught me that there is a slow, deliberate way to solve problems. The union has this process that makes sure that everyone is working off the same sheet, seeing the same policy, and I’ve learned that this is useful even outside of my work. I’m involved at my son’s school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and have learned that folks volunteering their time may initially be focused in different directions and it is important to bring them all to the same table to achieve the common goal. The union also helps our work here [at EBMUD] and [this deliberate process] reminds folks not to rush to judgment and to work together.

Why are you proud to be a member of IFPTE Local 21?

TL: Local 21 is professional in conduct and our union is made up of everyday people power. Our union communicates in a very professional and collaborative way. We get more results this way – I’m very happy because this method solves day-to-day issues. This is my one and only union job and I lucked out – Local 21 is awesome.