Unionized insurance agents picket AAA meeting moved from California to Utah

Workers traveled from California to demand the regional AAA branch negotiate with the union.

(Doug Bloch) AAA insurance sales agents organized with the Teamsters rallied outside a AAA meeting in Farmington, Utah, on Wednesday, March 2, 2022.

AAA has long promised peace of mind to travelers across the country. But recently, unionized workers with the AAA branch that serves Utah, California and Nevada say the company is failing to offer that same sense of security to its own employees.

Insurance sales agents with the nonprofit member association rallied outside the annual meeting in Farmington on Wednesday to demand executives begin contract negotiations with nearly 500 workers who organized with the Teamsters union last summer in California.

“They’ve been stalling the negotiations,” said Jeff Wilkinson, a sales agent and union member from San Francisco, Calif., who traveled to Utah this week with dozens of other California-based agents.

“We want to demonstrate and exercise our rights as workers,” Wilkinson said, “and show to other workers that we want the company to respect our rights in organizing a union and giving us a contract.”

Wilkinson, who has worked at AAA for over three decades, said the company was a wonderful place to work until about eight years ago when senior agents started being pushed out and a two-tier pay system was implemented for newer hires.

“I represent the new agents of AAA,” said Corina Molina, a sales agent from Fresno, Calif., who has been in the company for nine years. “We’re in the same office doing the same work. But the person next to you can be making two or three times more than what you’re making.”

(Doug Bloch) AAA insurance sales agents organized with the Teamsters rallied outside a AAA meeting in Farmington, Utah, on Wednesday, March 2, 2022.

For roughly 30 years, AAA of Northern California, Nevada & Utah has held its annual meeting in California, but after the successful union drive last year, the company announced it was meeting in Utah instead. The Teamsters say the change was a deliberate effort to avoid criticism from unionized workers in the state. No AAA agents in Utah are currently unionized.

“I think it’ll be a little bit of a shock to the leadership at AAA,” said Tony Delorio, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 665, on Tuesday. “They can run three states over. But we’re going to not only make our presence felt there at the annual meeting, but also take the time to outreach to the workers in Utah.”

Delorio said the AAA workers are the first insurance agents the Teamsters have organized, and he hopes workers in Utah and Nevada will think about unionizing as well.

As a membership association, all AAA members can participate in selecting board members at annual meetings like the one held on Wednesday. But workers, many of whom are AAA members, said they were barred from entering the conference room for the meeting, which lasted less than five minutes and allowed no public comment.

The local AAA office in Farmington closed down on Wednesday.

At an outdoor union rally held after the meeting, Angie Matthews, a AAA agent from Stockton, Calif., spoke alongside Teamsters from the Utah local and called the company’s response “grotesque” and “undignified.”

“We are a membership organization,” she said. “You forgot that today and you showed that to the public. Your members should be outraged.”

In an emailed statement, a AAA spokesperson said the company provides excellent benefits and competitive compensation.

“We want to continue doing so for years to come,” the statement said. “We respect the relationship with our Northern California branch-based insurance agents and union representatives. We are committed to the collective bargaining process and have been negotiating in good faith.”

The company did not respond to questions about why the annual meeting was moved and why it did not allow for member participation.

California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara sent a letter to Tim Condon, CEO of the AAA branch this week, noting that negotiations may be stalled.

“I urge you to recognize the rights of the AAA agents that have voted to unionize and negotiate a contract in good faith and that is acceptable to both sides,” Lara said.

Union members say that while working conditions at the company have deteriorated and relationships with customers have been affected, executive pay is substantial. Condon, the company’s CEO, was paid $1.4 million in incentives and bonuses in 2015 alone, according to court filings.

Wilkinson, the union member from San Francisco, said that addressing workers’ concerns through a fair contract would help both the company and its members.

“We don’t want AAA to turn into a cell phone store where you have employees coming and going,” he said. “We want long-term employees that know the product and can service those customers for generations. [The union’s effort] provides a long-term vision for the company’s success rather than a short-term money grab.”

Wilkinson said the shift in the company’s treatment of its employees was as heartbreaking as a Hank Williams song.

“Why don’t you love me like you used to do?” he said, quoting the country singer. “How come you treat me like a worn-out shoe?”

Zak Podmore is a Report for America corps member for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.