SEIU 1021

Member Spotlight: Bryna Wigmore Is Building Power for Members at Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District


Like many amazing union leaders, Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District Chapter President Bryna Wigmore initially stepped up because she saw her chapter leaders working hard and needing more help. 

“There was a petition going around. Everyone was feeling intimidated by the district regime, and my name was one of only a few on the front of the petition,” she explained. “People were surprised and told me the superintendent was going to see my name. Most of them weren’t feeling safe or secure enough in their jobs to put their name on the front. They said they could lose their jobs, and I said, ‘No, you can’t. You’re part of a union, you haven’t done anything wrong, and your union will protect you.’ Our chapter president said, ‘I’m signing the front, you’re signing it, and others aren’t going to. If you feel so strongly about this, why aren’t you in here helping us?’ I started looking at the bargaining materials and suggested angles we could approach it from. Our chapter president asked me to join the negotiations team.”

Bryna has now been chapter president for six years–a role she fell into by accident when the president before her retired, but one she takes seriously. Increasing member engagement is one of her main objectives as a union leader–and she’s getting it done.

“We used to have 14 or 15 people for our membership meetings when I started,” she said. “Right before covid, we had 40-50 people showing up. Our members do have a strong voice. Recently, we were wearing Union Strong buttons to show solidarity with teachers who are getting ready to go on strike. Over half our unit wore them. I keep telling them, ‘Their fight is our fight.’ Collective bargaining is so important. If we work together with our sister unions, when they get a fair wage, it will get us a fair wage too. Their fight is our fight. Preaching this has become my mantra, and I hope it carries on after I retire in a few years. This is how our members are going to get a fair and equitable wage.”

Fair, equitable pay is another big goal for Bryna. “It’s a problem in our district. Even neighboring Santa Rosa, Petaluma,Healdsburg, Sebastopol–they all get paid better than us. We can’t even get substitutes in our area. Our subs get barely $15 an hour. They’d make more working at In ‘n’ Out or Old Navy. We’re working with medically fragile, special needs kids. Not only do we deserve more than that, but the students need to be recognized more, and their needs are more important than that.

“The other thing I want to focus on is that our retired members are only making $14.86 an hour when they come back to sub, because longevity doesn’t count. We have to change this. If you’re a retired employee, you should get a base of $18-19 an hour for substituting. It’s insulting that they put in 20-25 years, and that it was their longevity that carried them through, it wasn’t their hourly wage. The District says they’ll bring them up to minimum wage. That’s not acceptable. These people have experience, and it’s not recognized in the pay.”

Bryna also takes care to make sure new employees are welcomed into the union. “I explain the benefits of being in the union, go over information about our insurance, and try to introduce them to the other members at their school site, so they can lean on them as well–and I’m always available. I want them to realize that working with special needs kids can be overwhelming, but in the end, it’s a rewarding job, and being in the union is being in a family. It pays off. You just don’t always see it in the beginning.”