Steward spotlight: Chuck Desepte, Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital
You might say union blood runs through Chuck Desepte’s veins.
His family history has been tied with labor movements for at least three generations.
“My grandfather [Warren G. ‘Pop’ Desepte] was the first vice president of the Retail Clerks International. He fought for very basic things like a standard wage and decent working hours. Clerks often worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week. He travelled the country organizing and getting arrested,” said Chuck, an X-ray technician in Santa Rosa Memorial’s Imaging Department.
Chuck’s father, Werner Desepte, continued that commitment to workers’ rights as a shop steward and negotiating team member at KRON 4 TV in San Francisco.
And now Chuck is carrying the family legacy forward. He has been in unions during his entire career in health care, but for many years he simply participated in actions and voted on contracts.
That changed in 2018 when NUHW began negotiating a new contract at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. His department didn’t have a steward at the time and “I felt I needed to be involved, because I knew St. Joseph/Providence would take away so much from us.”
He got into the bargaining process early and played an important role during the 19 months of negotiations and actions that ultimately led to a new four-year contract.
“I got heavily involved with the sticker-up, the info picket and ultimately the strike,” said Chuck, recalling the five-day work stoppage in July 2020 before ratifying a four-year contract in December. “I was organizing and getting people behind that.”
He says he learned a lot during those 19 months.
“Now I know the only way to stop the takeaways is to strengthen our union by getting as many members involved,” said Chuck.
And the work doesn’t end when the contract is ratified. It must then be enforced and defended.
“The contract is not just about wages and benefits, it covers every aspect of our work. It must be followed. Every time management breaks any part of it, it weakens us. They know that and push it all the time. Each one of us can have a part in this struggle,” said Chuck.
As a steward, Chuck advocates and advises workers whenever they have a problem. It’s a surefire way to spread the word about the importance of the union.
“If I do a good deed for them, they’re going to tell other people,” he said. Chuck also continues trying to get members involved in leadership roles. “I feel we can be a lot stronger,” he said. “This is a struggle and if you don’t fight, you can lose.
“The union is us. Some people say, ‘But I pay my dues’. I get that. But if you want it to be a strong union, you’re going to have to do something. And it doesn’t have to be anything big. It starts with knowing your contract, and if something is not living up to it, you need to say something,” he adds.
Chuck understands some members may have initial apprehensions about stepping up and becoming a steward.
“It’s scary for me at times,” he admitted. “But if we all stand up, we can do it, and you learn it’s not so scary.”