Ben Rust Award 2010: Mark Newton, San Jose/Evergreen Faculty Association

Mark Newton was one of the founding members of the San Jose/Evergreen Faculty Association, AFT Local 6157, and was for seven years its first president. He is, in many ways, the heart and soul of the local.

His entrance into union activity wasn’t typical. Mark’s first taste of union activity was not a positive experience. The local was an independent union. The union was fractured, quarreling internally and not serving the needs of the faculty. Heated partisan fighting and administrative interference had rendered the union virtually useless. The local’s influence within the district, especially with the administration and the trustees, was almost nonexistent. It was withering with no hope of recovery in sight.

Enter Mark Newton. He ran for the presidency of the union with the best of motives: to help the faculty receive fair contracts, more respect and better pay and benefits. In the first year of his presidency the union regained its unity, direction and momentum and won the first big raise in years, for both full time and part time faculty members. By the beginning of his third year he and other executive board members were finishing negotiations with CFT representatives to form AFT 6157. The ratification vote was 97% in favor of affiliation. That level of commitment is indicative and reflective of the trust and confidence faculty had in Mark and their willingness to follow his leadership.

The local’s affiliation with AFT/CFT has been nothing short of miraculous for the faculty and it is clear that the combination of Mark’s leadership and commitment to union processes and the power of the AFT/CFT has made life better for the faculty and changed the tenor and tone of the environment in the district. Trustees call the union now to discuss issues facing the district when in years past they wouldn’t even return the union’s phone calls. The administration is more responsive and more collaborative that at any time in the district’s history.

Mark’s influence went beyond just that of a great union president. He also served as a member of the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council and was the first educational leader to be elected to that council’s executive board. His activities in local, statewide, and national elections have been inspiring to the entire faculty. He has also been an important asset to CFT in his efforts at organizing other locals up and down the state of California.

He led groups of students from San Jose/Evergreen district during the “March in March” protest marches to the capitol in Sacramento. He led the local’s fight against the governor’s attack on public employee pensions and medical benefits. He has worked to protect faculty and other public employee groups by participating in phone banks, mailings and publishing of articles and messages to rally the union’s membership and to encourage our staff and students to participate in the political process.

Mark is a soft spoken biologist who has garnered enormous respect from his colleagues and students. He is a leader in his department and has worked diligently to develop the plans and insure that the new Science building at San Jose City College was built with full time, adjunct faculty and students in mind.

His calm analytical mind and decisive style is just what the union needed and what is still producing big benefits.

And last but not least Mark is an excellent educator. He is one of the key faculty members in bringing “Achieving the Dream” program to our district and also continues to serve as a member of the Academic Senate.

Mark epitomizes what is right about unions.