The Long Beach Federation of Teachers was chartered February 23, 1956. An earlier teacher union, AFT Local 456, was chartered in Long Beach on March 30, 1935 and lasted until World War II.
Shortly after its second birthday Local 1263 was involved in a controversy that epitomized the need for a teacher union in that period when McCarthyism still cast a long shadow. Jordan High School teacher Ray de Groat was dismissed in spite of an initial recommendation of Principal Milt Sager for tenure. Deputy Superintendent Wright ordered Sager to mark de Groat unsatisfactory and recommend that he not be given tenure, Sager sent Wright memo the Long Beach Teacher reprinted. Sager wrote, “…[de Groat] is far more sincere and earnest toward being a really good teacher than a large majority of our probationers.... In all justice I believe him to be a man of extremely high ideals…. I should be pleased to have him as a member of my teaching staff on a permanent basis.”
Sager was forced to dismiss de Groat. The only hint of a reason was the charge: an “independence of spirit,” which apparently described de Groat's political activities as a youngster and as a teacher union member.
Two probationary teachers at Jordan High School, Lucille Couvillon Grieve (now Harmon of the CFT travel program) and Maureen Cameron (Clarke), spoke against the administration's arbitrary action. Grieve and Cameron were summarily dismissed. Grieve remarked, “I would not have believed a few months ago that the episodes which have occurred in Long Beach could have happened. I thought things like this only happened in totalitarian countries.”
Under presidents Frank Ochoa and Ron Hager, Local 1263 supported the “Tri-Teacher Dismissal Case.” Eventually the court found districts could dismiss probationary teachers even if the facts showed that the teachers were competent. The "Tri-Teacher Case," however, helped change state law regarding the rights of probationary teachers.
The company union of the time, the Teachers Association of Long Beach (TALB), obliquely referred to LBFT's efforts in defense of teachers in a January, 1960, editorial in TALB Talks: “While some organizations are bogged down with sullen dissenters, disgruntled and demoralized teachers, TALB is alert with teachers who care enough to work to improve their lot. This is dedication we are talking about. No isolated pockets of pouters, but mature, professional people…No teachers’ organization…has had more overall cooperation from the membership and from the administration.” (emphasis added).
In a speech to the Musicians' Local 353 in 1959, President Ron Hager (who also served as CFT Parliamentarian) noted the goals of LBFT included: (1) probationary protection, (2) transfer of tenure, (3) reduced class interruption, (4) class size reduction, (5) retirement improvements, (6) unused sick leave as severance pay , (7) access to personnel records and a prohibition of secret files, (8) district-paid retirement, (9) one hour duty-free lunch, (10) an end to coercion to belong to an acceptable association, (11) improved salaries.
Growth and movement toward these goals were the focus during the 50's and 60's under the leadership of Hugh MacColl, Lou Eilerman (who served as CFT president 1958-60), Ruth (Conrad) Schweitzer (who served as CFT Secretary), Don Fitzgerald, and Hal May.
Jerry King remembers the day fellow probationary teacher Charlie McCarthy was told he would not be rehired. Local President Don Fitzgerald, on a moment's notice, spent the entire night preparing a written response in a futile attempt to dissuade the school administration. “I learned a lot that night from Don about what it means to be teacher advocate and a lot about the cruelty of arbitrary administrative decisions.”
Don Utter and Ed Penn served as editors, and activist Mark Hannaford was later elected mayor of Lakewood and congressman. Members Jerry King and Marshall Pelle helped start the CFT credit union and King served on QUEST from its start as the CFT Curriculum Council.
We won the fight for the right to collective bargaining. In Long Beach, unfortunately, we lost the campaign to be exclusive representative (251 to 1549). Under the leadership of Tom Fadgen and Jerry King the terms: collective bargaining, teacher power (aka empowerment), grievances, political action, militancy, solidarity, strike, reform, and a liberal social agenda have become an acceptable part of the professional dialogue. We did not, however, have time to teach the real meaning of the terms to more than twice our membership.
Members Robert Kalman, Henry Legere, and Bob Ciriello could write a book on how to win grievances under an Association's contract which gives few rights to employees. No history of the local would be complete without a mention of member Judy Mednick, the first winner of the CFT’s Women in Education Award for her academic freedom fight for the approval of her course Women and Men in Literature. LBFT working with Long beach ACLU won this one.
(Jerry King, contributor)