AFT Staff Guild, Local 1521

Established 1982

During its 25 year history, the AFT College Guild, Local 1521, evolved into the second largest AFT/CFT local in California. In 1982, the local and national AFT organized a decertification election for the Clerical/Technical Unit I employees of the Los Angeles Community College District. "It was time for the Clerical/Technical Unit to be better represented and we felt AFT could do the job best," states Dick Contoni, classified activist, who helped make the guild victorious. At that time, Unit I was represented by the California School Employees Association (CSEA) and was the only unit in the LACCD not represented by an AFL/CIO union.

Among the many responsible for victory, special thanks went to classified employees Birt Tidwell, Jeanne Bascom, JonJon Stirrat, Mimi Cooper and Aba Maccani and then Guild President Virginia Mulrooney, Jim Hardesty, Gwen Hill, Chuck Dirks, Marty Hittelman, Don Misumi, Joe Hinijosa, and Enid Diamond from the faculty unit. Campaign workers were assigned from Detroit, Connecticut, and California (Elaine Meyers and Sandra Lepore). Classified and faculty recall the campaign unity and the tense moments during the ballot count. United, both groups joyfully celebrated the AFT victory. Local 1521 was certified the bargaining agent for the unit on August 23, 1983.

The AFT College Guild was the first AFT/CFT community college faculty local in California to include classified brothers and sisters. The newly formed Staff Guild continues to be the largest unit of community college classified employees in California, currently representing 870 Clerical/Technical employees. The organization of the classified unit into Local 1521 set a precedent for organizing other classified units within community colleges in California.

The College Guild appointed Sandra Lepore as Executive Secretary-Treasurer for the new unit. “My marching orders were clear”, recalls Lepore. “The first order of business was to launch a membership drive and almost immediately hundreds of new members were signed up.”
The staff boasts of its outstanding early recruiters particularly Aba Maccani and Lyse Garland.

In October 1983 the first election of chapter chair delegates and alternates for the Staff Guild Executive Board was held. On November 15 the Staff Guild elected Barbara Kleinschmitt President, Birt Tidwell Vice President, and Jeanne Bascom Secretary. Among the first elected chapter chairs for the staff were Tim Hague, Richard Contoni, Gwen Bowens, Wanda Piekarski, Lois Osborne, Wylene Hill, Patricia Westrnoreland, Irene Jusko, Lois Bolbecher and Gene Osuagwu.

Local 1521 office staff Lil Skovran, Lil Elman and Reyna Martinez provided initial support for the new unit. Professional staff Art Forcier, Jim Hardesty, and Paul Worthman assisted in representing the unit members. By December of 1983 Aundrea Douglas was hired as the Secretary for the Staff Guild.

Faculty members came forward to act as mentors to help support the efforts of the new classified leadership. Kaye Dunagan, Faculty Guild Assistant Executive Secretary, Grievances, assisted the Staff Guild with grievances. One of the first victories for the staff was to win a dismissal hearing for a classified employee who was wrongfully discharged. Among the first set of grievance activists from the classified ranks were Bette Lieber, Eva Lawrence, Gloria Wilmot (current Assistant Executive Secretary, Grievances), Daryl Goodman, Angela Hernandez, Deborah Odum, Sunny Frantz, and Bunnie Kimble. More recent activists include Renee Stampolis, Lynn Apodaca, Roland Jones and Charlotte Saldick.

In 1983 the District moved to layoff 500 classified employees. With the assistance of the faculty, the Staff Guild filed lawsuits and an unfair labor charge against the District. "Save the 500" became the battle cry at worksites and at the Board of Trustee meetings where rank and file classified and faculty demonstrated and protested. The 500 layoffs were rescinded.

All the while the Staff Guild was working on its first three year contract with faculty guild Vice President Marty Hittelman serving as chief negotiator. Upon the departure of Guild President Virginia Mulrooney, Hittelman assumed the role of acting Guild President. From September of 1983 until November of 1984 the negotiating team worked to achieve a contract. That agreement was hailed by many as the premiere classified contract in the country, bringing classified employees into the modern era of collective bargaining. The team and the classified unit are forever grateful to chief negotiators Hittelman and Gwen Hill for the solidarity they displayed with their classified brothers and sisters.

By 1984/85 the Staff Guild had achieved 80% membership and negotiated agency shop. In Spring of 1984, Hal Fox was elected President of the local. Kleinschmitt was reelected President of the Staff Guild (and has been reelected since) along with Arlo Coker, Vice President and Lydia D'Amico Secretary.

During that period, Kleinschmitt was appointed to the National AFT Paraprofessional/School Related Personnel Committee (PSRP), was elected President of the Council of Classified Employees CCE/CFT and a Vice President of the CFT, became an officer of CLUW, and was appointed to the UCLA Labor Center Advisory Board. These accomplishments signified the acceptance of classified employees within our affiliates. Kleikchmitt became notorious as the advocate for classified issues.

In 1985/86 the Board of Trustees moved once more to lay off classified employees. Once again staff and faculty demonstrated and protested. On January 1, 1986, 13 Unit I employees were laid off. The AFT Staff Guild negotiated a severance grant, recall rights/procedures, and retraining options for the affected employees. After the layoff, the Guild continued to represent those laid off and were able to achieve offers of reemployment (through unfair labor charges and other means) for all but three (action on their behalf still pending). The current three year contract, 1987-1990, includes retraining options with tuition reimbursement for employees impacted by the layoffs of 1986.

The 1985/86 reopeners were characterized by a tight budget but the Staff Guild did successfully negotiate a one hour lunch, and a 37 1/2 hour work week for classified employees. That same year, Roland Jones became the new Vice President, Vivian Stokes was elected the first Treasurer, and Jeanne Bascom again sewed the union as Secretary.

The next struggle was to prevent faculty layoffs. Dissatisfied with the Board of Trustees, the guild became involved in one of the most heated trustee elections in the District's history. The guild endorsed and elected three new Board members, Wallace Knox, David Lopez Lee, and Julia Wu and defeated two incumbent Board members who had voted for layoffs. Guild-supported incumbent Hal Garvin was also victorious. Through that process, Lois Camarillo and Armond Keith became the COPE activists for the staff.

Since it became the bargaining agent in 1983, the Staff Guild negotiated salary increases, improved health benefits, ensured a safer work environment, and developed retraining and study opportunities. The union also created career opportunities, such as coordinating union management involvement in a reclassification study with rank and file participation on the committee (Penny Miller, Helen Beaird, and Dick Contoni are the AFT Unit I representatives; Bill Callahan, CFT representative, has invaluably served as consultant). The Guild has generated a climate of increased respect for classified employees throughout the district.

The 1987-90 contract furthered the goals of the AFT. With a more responsive Board of Trustees and the hard work of Co-Chief Negotiators Kleinschrnitt and Lepore, and team members Marietta Martin, Mike Romo, Gloria Wilmot, Abbie Ramirez, Ethel Posner, Wylene Dill, Helen Beaird, Brenda Sopher, and Dorothy Rupert, the classified collective bargaining agreement was again improved.

In 1988, Kleinschmitt and Jones continued in their leadership positions. Lydia D'Amico and Virve Leps were elected treasurer and secretary respectively. Chapter leaders elected were Tom Graham, Penny Miller, Jacki Thornton, Abbie Ramirez, Joanne Koenig, Barbara Stephens, Helen Beaird, Irene Jusko and Tonia Agron. Lepore continued in her position of Executive Secretary for the unit. Gwen Hill became the president of the local, reaffirming her support for the classified unit.

Currently, the staff is working on the revision of the District's Sexual Harassment Policy, negotiating policy/procedures for the safe and healthful use of Video Display Terminals, proposing a wellness program, and researching child care options.

The Clerical/Technical Unit has now achieved a level of professionalism and work standards that enables increased job satisfaction. With nearly 90% membership (which earned a National AFT membership award in 1988/89) the staff can go on record as “trying to do what every strong union does ... to organize and educate and then to represent ourselves.”

(Sandra Lepore, contributor)

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