The Santa Rosa Junior College Faculty/AFT, Local 1946, occupies one of the most beautiful community college campuses in the state. It is fronted by a park acquired from the estate of noted plant breeder Luther Burbank. Campus gardeners today keep faith with this illustrious predecessor in the carefully tended flower beds, shrubs, and lawns amongst which sculpture, fountains, and ivy-covered Tudor brick buildings make a picture-perfect collegiate setting. Too perfect, perhaps, because its very beauty may have stood in the way of the faculty getting itself organized, as current SRJC Faculty/AFT President Sarah Gill speculated: "It is so beautiful here that it's easy to overlook all the inequities and get lulled into a false sense of security and complacency."
That complacency was shattered on June 13, 1989, when the SRJC faculty, in two parallel elections, voted AFT in as the bargaining agent in one unit composed of adult education instructors, and in the other unit gave AFT a plurality of votes over a slate of no rep, CTA, and an independent faculty association. The victories were two decades in the making.
Local 1946 was founded just 20 years ago on April 10, 1969 with 14 members, led by activists David Harrigan, Harvey Hanson, and John Bigby. In its early years, Local 1946 made a name for itself, despite its small numbers, as a staunch and militant opponent of the Vietnam war. Two new members, Brian O'Brien and Marilyn Milligan, had, as graduate students at UC Berkeley, helped found the original antiwar movement. Harrigan, the second president, helped students to start up a black students' association, and worked with other AFT members to form a COPE chapter.
Under Harrigan's leadership in 1972, the local published its first newsletter, Dialogue, edited by Rosalie Zucker with assistance by Steve Petty and Bernie Sugarman. The following year, Petty, together with third president Bill Harrison and English instructor Don Emblen, co-edited the AFT Informer, more an academic journal than a newsletter, which focused on educational issues and provided a forum for faculty discussion. Emblen soon became sole editor. Although the literary quality of the AFT Informer was excellent, and faculty enjoyed it, publication ended in 1974 with a one-time-only resurrection in 1983.
SRJC faculty rejected the opportunity afforded in 1975 by the Rodda Act to organize for collective bargaining, choosing instead a so-called "collegial" attempt to work out salaries and benefits with the administration and Board of Trustees through committees of the Academic Senate, which had meet-and-confer rights only. Over the next 15 years, the Board of Trustees, composed of long-term local businessmen, professionals, and farmers, developed a powerful, monolithic organization whose vote at Board meetings was typically unanimous, and who favored a corporate model for college governance. One or two halfhearted efforts at a collective bargaining election by a few AFT activists failed to collect enough petition cards from a sufficient majority of the faculty. Three candidates supported by AFT for the Board failed to get elected. Given these discouraging circumstances, it was not surprising that AFT's membership declined under successive AFT presidents Bernie Sugarman, Pat Broderick, and Everett Traverso, leveling into a kind of holding pattern with the presidencies of Brian O'Brien and Joan Wion.
There were some victories. In 1983, the AFT protested the action of the college's president who had directed his secretary to remove AFT flyers written by activist Harvey Hanson to support a candidate for the Board of Trustees from the SRJC faculty mailboxes. After considerable opposition by the district, AFT's position that employee organizations had the right to free and unencumbered access to the college's internal mail system was upheld in 1984 by a PERB decision. Over the next five years, the district would continue periodically to take faculty mail from faculty mailboxes for various reasons, but each time AFT was able to refer to the PERB decision to call a halt to these actions. After the lottery law was passed, AFT members worked with the CTA local to develop a “wish list” of faculty priorities for spending the money, ignored by the administration. After over $3.4 million had been collected in lottery monies, the AFT asked the district for an accounting. Although the local K-12 school districts in Santa Rosa had reported in the local newspaper how they had used their share of lottery monies, the college Board of Trustees refused to give the faculty this information. AFT initiated a suit, still pending, to get an accounting of the lottery money from the district.
Faculty attitudes were starting to change. Attempting to work through the structure of the Academic Senate, AFT activists in the Senate had helped to arrange annual all-college meetings with the administration. Each year the same issues were identified and discussed, and then little or nothing done about them by the district for another year. Part-time faculty burgeoned to comprise 82% of total faculty. Sabbaticals for full-faculty were reduced to once every 14 years. Meanwhile, the district grew .richer, with a profit of more than $1 million a year tucked away into a reserve fund. By the fall of 1987, faculty faith in the "collegial" process had eroded to the point where collective bargaining was an attractive alternative. Local 1946 asked national AFT rep Vincent Russell for help, and on February 9, 1988, with a grand total membership of 32 and a newly elected president, Sarah Gill, the SRJC Faculty/AFT set out to win collective bargaining rights for the faculty.
Strong opposition came not just from the district but also from a group of full-time faculty members who had accommodated to the meet-and-defer process. But the SRJC Faculty/AFT found a secret weapon in Ron Melton, the national AFT staff member assigned to strategic and logistical support for the campaign. On Melton's advice, Gill and Membership Chair Marty Carpenter attended AFT's Full Membership Program in Santa Cruz, and mounted a strong membership campaign in the fall of 1988. Vice President Richard Speakes organized phonebanks for SRJC's part-time faculty members. Educational forums on AB1725 and workshops for part-time faculty unemployment benefits were held. AFT membership more than quadrupled, winning state and national awards for membership growth.
Many new members enrolled as activists. More than 50 members came to work on tasks of the campaign. Outstanding among the members who gave generously of their time, energies, and spirit: Chuck Brown, Peter Broome, Peggy Fontaine, Alberta Hart, Val Hicks, Carol Hirsch, Steve Hopkins, Diane Johnson, Ed LaFrance, Meridee Lantz, John LeBaron, Lorin Leith, Charles Miller, Gino and Julie Muzzatti, Sylvia Nance, Dave Reagan, Diana Reeder, Ann Samson, Helen Sherak, Rich Vera, Dick Webster, and Shirley Kotite Young.
Gill opened the carding campaign at a SRJC Faculty/AFT meeting on November 29, 1988. Convinced by AFT's success that collective bargaining was going to win, some full-time faculty created a stop-AFT movement by calling in Cy Gulassa from the Foothill-DeAnza district for help in forming the independent All Faculty Association. The administration had told AFT officers all along that there was a total of approximately 1,000 faculty members at SRJC, which meant that AFT would have to collect 501 signatures in order to qualify for an election. Suddenly the district produced a list of over 1,400, going back in time for two years and including a group of 237 non-credit part-time adult instructors whose names had never appeared on any of the district's faculty directories. AFT members scrambled to the phonebanks and drove all over Sonoma County to secure the additional signatures needed to qualify.
Meanwhile, Gill and Melton began a short, intensive campaign with the group that would become known as Unit B at the Sonoma state hospital where many of the instructors worked with developmentally disabled adults. With the help of Unit B activists Robyn Cherwin and Emory Norstad, Gill and Melton learned that these part-time instructors were treated by the administration as the subtime proletariat of the district, receiving even less pay and fewer benefits than their Unit A colleagues on the main campus. Many promptly joined AFT. One of the district administrators, acting true to his reputation in Unit B, claimed that Gill and Melton had no right to talk with instructors, and called the police to throw them out. The result of this action was to cause many more Unit B instructors to sign up with AFT.
Not surprisingly, when the votes were counted on June 13, 1989, Unit B went 78% for AFT representation. In Unit A, comprised of 1,170 part-time and full-time instructors working on the main campus or at one of more than 50 off provide campus sites, the vote went 44% for AFT, 32% for AFA, 18% for CTA, and 7% for No representation. A run-off election for Unit A between AFT and the second- place AFA is scheduled for October 1989. "We look forward to another victory in the fall," Gill said. Meanwhile, the SRJC Faculty/AFT is working hard with the instructors of Unit B to develop their first contract.
(Sarah Gill, contributor)