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With patience and humility, Isaias Lona keeps his city safe

Gilroy, CA. Photo credit: Getty.
By Pete Levine ·
With patience and humility, Isaias Lona keeps his city safe
Photo credit: Member-provided photo.

Isaias Lona, a hazardous materials inspector, may appear to be a laid-back, patient guy, according to his co-worker Jennifer Rojero, but he’s no pushover. You can’t be when the safety of your community is at stake, and when you’re part of a team whose responsibilities are as broad as Lona’s.

Whether it’s conducting fire inspections, hazardous waste inspections, wastewater treatment inspections or any of the safety checks that Lona performs to ensure that the businesses in Gilroy, California, are operating safely, being patient yet rigorous with clients are hallmarks of Lona’s approach.

However, according to Rojero, who nominated Lona for AFSCME’s Never Quit Service Award, Lona is a standout teammate for many other reasons.

“He’s made our agency much more efficient,” says Rojero, who credits Lona, a member of AFSCME Local 101 (Council 57), with using his knowledge of database management to update and automate what used to be a mostly paper-based system.

Lona and Rojero are responsible for an unusually broad portfolio, combining the work of three agencies. It makes their jobs unique and challenging.

“We do a lot and wear a lot of hats,” Rojero says.

Lona, however, consistently goes beyond his day-to-day responsibilities, and has been a mentor to Rojero, who is newer to the field and joined the team after Lona.

Rojero says that Lona took her out on inspections so she could understand how best to work with clients – their motto is education over enforcement – and he even created training templates she and others could study to put her on a surer footing.

Lona’s success also stems from his ability to put clients at ease. There’s a built-in trepidation that comes with the inspector-client relationship. While they do issue citations for violations, Rojero says Lona “is such a patient person. He knows how to talk to business owners. He will guide the person. Sometimes you encounter very angry people.”

Lona’s approach? Let them vent, then educate them about the steps they need to take to correct the violation and how to navigate the paperwork or training that needs to be completed.

That approach is particularly useful, says Rojero, with Spanish speaking business owners, who appreciate the fact that Lona is bilingual.

“Spanish speakers feel a lot more comfortable talking to him,” says Rojero. “We both know the technical terms in Spanish and we’re able to spell it out in layman terms. When they hear an inspector is coming, they’ll feel really tense. But we can joke around to ease the tension. You form a relationship with the business owner.”

Lona, who grew up in Watsonville, California, and went to San Jose State University, earning a degree in environmental sciences, brings deep experience to his job as an inspector. Stints transporting hazardous waste, working as a chemist and later as a consultant in the hazardous waste field gave him the wealth of knowledge he uses today.

“No one ever calls a consultant because everything’s OK,” jokes Lona.

He had to solve problems quickly.

“I’m using my experience to help out not only the city, but also the clients. At the end of the day,” Lona says, with characteristic humility, “if they’re happy and they comply, that’s what matters. We want to make the community safe, and keep the businesses safe as well.”

Know a co-worker who goes above and beyond the call of duty? Nominate them for AFSCME’s Never Quit Service Award.

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