The Peralta Federation of Teachers over 800 full and part time faculty at four colleges: Laney, Alameda, Merritt and Vista. A fifth college, Feather River, was deannexed in 1988. The PFT was founded in 1965 by a group of faculty who were deeply influenced by the issues of the decade: civil rights; free speech; Vietnam. “When we started,” noted Jerry Herman, one of the early PFT presidents “we were all under 30; we were the young turks.” Shirley Nedham, PFT's first president, recalls “we collected money for the farmworkers; we went to Delano; we sat in the fog at Port Chicago to protest the war in Vietnam.”
In those early years, compensation and workload issues were handled by the faculty senate. PFT spoke to the broader social and political issues.
Things changed in the 1970's. A new chancellor, Tom Fryer, and the passage of the Winton Act, were key events in this change. Faculty needed a different kind of representation and advocacy during the Fryer years and the Winton Act provided the forum for the PFT to move into this role. A Certificated Employees Council was established and representatives from the faculty met with the district on a regular basis. Membership in CEC was proportional to the number of members in each organization. Therefore employee organizations actively sought new members. PFT always had the most, but CTA and an independent group also had representatives. None of the employee groups, however, liked the CEC because it had no power. Administration could and did whatever it wanted to do.
To respond to the new era PFT expanded its operations. Roger Newman who became president in 1972 set out to modify the direction of the union. “I had one helluva time with the perception of the union,” he said. “It's one thing to rally around social issues and another to really represent the faculty.” PFT hired its first Executive Secretary, Ed Walker, in 1972. Ed recalls that “the whole union at that time was in a box. I mean it, a cardboard box, all the files. We couldn't afford an office; the treasurer just said no.”
PFT sought to expand its support within the faculty by organizing part time temporary instructors. Walker was assigned the task and within a year PFT had an active part timer committee within its ranks and a separate group which worked outside the PFT. There was a great deal of agitation about the issue of the abuse and exploitation of part time faculty which culminated in the filing of a lawsuit against the district for equal pay and tenure for part time faculty. One of the PFT presidents during the 1970s, Bernardo Garcia Pandavenes noted “I used to call the part-timers the farmworkers of the district.” Mark Greenside, who became PFT president in 1987, was a part-timer in the 1970s and one of the organizers part-time faculty: “The suit sent shock waves through the state as each college faculty and administration began understand the import of the action. Locals of the AFT began organizing their part time faculty and agitating on the issue of equal pay and tenure before their local boards of trustees.”
Finally the California Supreme Court in favor of tenure and equal pay for a limited number of Peralta part timers, a total of 26 and a few hundred in other community college districts in the state. The Peralta suit did not bring justice to the thousands of part timers who work for low wages under lousy conditions, but it did galvanize faculty throughout the state. In the wake of the Peralta suit locals were able to negotiate wage increases; seniority for part timers in one district; and pro-rated fringe benefits in other districts. PFT won an agreement with the trustee board for a limited pro-rata salary system for part-timers.
PFT also won the right for part time faculty to have full voting rights in all bargaining unit elections (now known as the “Peralta presumption” by the Public Employment Relations Board). Jenette Golds presided over the PFT as president during the period 1976 to 1980 which included the collective bargaining election years of 1978 and 1979. The Executive Secretary was LeRoy Votto. They were “frantic years” according to Golds, fraught with tension between faculty groups as well as two collective bargaining elections. PFT almost won in the first election but a runoff was needed to resolve the question. PFT won by more than two to one.
The passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 and the election of PFT as the exclusive bargaining agent in 1979 thrust the union in to a new era, one of layoffs, conflict and political action.
During the next eight years PFT had to negotiate and administer the collective bargaining agreement in the face of six different attempts to lay off tenured faculty. Despite the devastating effects on the morale of the faculty, the PFT led a series of successful legal and political actions to defeat the layoffs. Over 150 tenured faculty received layoff notices but less than five faculty are still on layoff status. While faculty were facing an annual spring blood ritual the administration and trustees came under increasingly heavy attacks for ineptitude and cronyism.
The administration of Donald Godbold had started in 1979, just as PFT became the exclusive bargaining agent. Godbold, like his predecessors, operated from a top downtown perspective and was not open to criticism from his faculty or staff. As Peralta staggered toward the abyss of fiscal and political bankruptcy the faculty looked toward PFT for leadership.
These were the years of the presidency of Michael Mills, Fran White and Bill Henderson, all of whom worked long and hard for the faculty and the entire institution. Bob Gabriner became the Executive Secretary of PFT in 1979 and provided the organizational backup for the union. Later Gabriner went on to become the President of the CFT's Community College Council. The CCC had been founded in the 1970's by a group of faculty who included former PFT President Ned Pearlstein. Jeanette Golds had headed the Council for a term in the late 1970's.
During the four year tenure of Bill Henderson things began to change. The decision to create a Political Action Committee and to run PFT's own candidate for Board of Trustees, former President Fran White, was a historic turning point. While White lost to an incumbent, PFT showed it had both organizational and financial resources to compete in trustee elections. With the help of Assemblyman Tom Bates, PFT pressured the Peralta trustees to adopt a local district area form of elections instead of at-large elections. As a result, six of the current seven trustees were PFT-supported candidates.
Also in this period the PFT led militant actions of the faculty. It sponsored a vote of no confidence against the Chancellor and administration; it led the fight for increased pay with a series of sickouts which closed three colleges during 1985 contract negotiations; it led marches, picketlines and rallies against layoffs, for more salary adjustments, for reform of the district.
“In retrospect,” notes Bob Gabriner, “we were a traditional union seeking more and better things for our faculty. But because of the crisis of management and finance in Peralta, we were thrust into a position of advocating not just for ourselves but for everyone in the institution. The union became a vehicle for reforming the entire district because no one else would do it.” Now (1989), Peralta has a new Chancellor, many new administrators and a renewed commitment to cooperative relations between the district and faculty and staff. The fiscal crisis has abated and enrollment has begun to grow thanks in part to a PFT-initiated special program for working adults (PACE).
(Bob Gabriner, Helen Worthen, contributors)