A tireless advocate for children, families and workers
The Local 535 executive board honored former first vice president Janet Atkins for her leadership, activism, and commitment to rank and file democracy in Local 535 and her tireless advocacy for the social work profession. When Janet joined the fledgling San Diego Chapter of Local 535 in 1981, the total statewide union membership was under 9,000. She immediately jumped in, becoming a steward and then an officer. What was the executive board like back then? “The person who recruited me asked, ‘Ever wonder where everyone from the ‘60s went? They are at the 535 executive board.’ And he was right,” she recalls.
Janet was elected to her first statewide office, first vice president, in 1985 and was elected president in 1988. She then went back to school to get her masters degree in social work and returned to be re-elected first vice president in 1996. She continued to serve in that position until she recently took a promotion to social services manager in Santa Clara County. “I may now be in management, but I’m still advocating for workers and our clients,” she wants to make clear.
Janet has served thousands of children and families as a child care worker, eligibility worker, and social worker. After 22 years of involvement in Local 535 and leadership in the Local 535 executive board children’s services committee, advocating for better conditions for children’s social workers and their clients has become synonymous with Janet. She left her mark on the California Child Welfare Services Stakeholders Group. When Atkins joined, the influential group was dominated by management, but working with other 535ers, such as field staff Wren Bradley, the group now takes the workers’ concerns and workload issues seriously. “We really fought hard to get them to take the findings of the SB 2030 study into the redesign, so that workers can have time to do a professional job,” she says. She knew she had made her mark when told that at a meeting she missed, one of the managers said, ‘Now what would Janet say about this if she were here?’