USM Bargaining Story: Jontae Thomas

A seasoned Mechanical Trades Chief at Bowie State University, Jontae Thomas has spent over a decade taking care of the fire alarm systems and electrical issues on campus. His journey into union activism was influenced by his family. “My uncle worked for the Post Office, and he was heavily involved in his union and stood up for a lot of his fellow union members. He instilled that in me — that duty to try and help everyone.” Jontae says he takes his uncle’s advice to heart, and it has informed how he operates as president of AFSCME Local 1297. “I want people to feel supported. I want them to understand that I’ve been through a lot of the same things, and I’m here to help and support them at work.”

Inspired by his family's advice to stand up for others, Jontae became actively involved in his local, and earlier this year, he became a member of the University System of Maryland (USM) bargaining team. “I just want to support the people working here. I want to help change things around here because this campus could be a wonderful place to work, but there’s just a lot of issues that we could improve.”

In the bargaining sessions so far, Jontae has observed how challenging negotiating with management can be; he has witnessed management’s resistance to fair requests while simultaneously wasting funds on contractors. He said, "It just blows my mind that they fight against things that are right for our people, the ones who provide for the university and the kids." His primary concerns revolve around stagnant wages, a lack of job progression, and the university's heavy reliance on contractual workers. For Jontae, winning pay increases isn't just about personal gain; it's about providing better living conditions for all staff members and fostering a sense of growth and opportunity within the university.

Jontae says that he values the unity that has grown among the different locals who are represented on the USM bargaining team. He emphasized the importance of collaboration and having a shared goal: “Coming together with folks from different universities and building relationships has been incredible. What started as different locals with different priorities has turned into a strong unified front standing up for all our members.”

Jontae envisions a brighter future for Bowie State and the entire University System of Maryland, one where staff are supported and respected. “Think about joining our union and our movement as a fight for our rights. We need everyone’s support and voice.”