Teamster road crews "pull shoulders" along Lake Geneva Park in Auburn.

It's drizzling at Lake Geneva in Auburn as Teamster road crews set up operations around the perimeter of a park. The group of a half dozen road maintenance workers are preparing to remove vegetation that has crept up onto the asphalt from the drainage ditch. 

"We'll be pulling sod so the water runs into the ditch and doesn't leave standing puddles," explains RJ, a 26-year veteran of the Road Services Division at King County.

RJ is a new Shop Steward with nine months under his belt. He'll be joining a team of more than a hundred union members to bargain a Coalition Labor Agreement this year. Twenty-six unions will be at the negotiating table, with Teamsters 117 playing a pivotal role. Maria Williams, President and Director of Representation of Local 117, will be co-chairing the bargain.

Members review results of their contract survey with Union Rep, Cara Mattson.

For RJ and his team, recognition of the physically challenging, dangerous work they do will be a top priority in negotiations. Roads crews are out in the elements daily. They work in snow, windstorms, and extreme heat, often in direct line of oncoming traffic.

"I don't know how many times you're flagging, and someone comes within inches of hitting you," says Richard Roa, the owner of a tree trimming business who came over to his County job last year. "You always have to keep your head on a swivel. That alone should speak for a raise." 

Roa is not alone in his call for better pay. Consensus among the group is that wages have not kept up with the cost of living.

Members raised the issue at their demands meeting on Tuesday with Union Reps, Cara Mattson and Rosanna Sim. Other goals for the group include limiting the use of temps, increasing sick leave, improving call outs, and classification specific range increases.  

For Roa, maintaining medical benefits isn't as great a priority as it is for many of his co-workers because he's got an extra layer of coverage through his wife's job. But he knows how vital it is to the group. "I'm going to rock with them," he says. "I understand why they want it." 

Richard Roa (l) and RJ (r) keep the roads clear of debris.

At the park, RJ and Roa hoe up boulders and clumps of sod as they trail behind the massive blade of the grader. Within an hour, they've spanned an entire city block, smoothing out the earth, clearing away hazards, and preserving the integrity of the road.  

It's a job that benefits millions of people a year who travel through King County. "We keep the roads safe for everybody," Roa says. 

See more photos of King County roads workers here.