Ben Rust Award 2015: Laura Rico, ABC Federation of Teachers

For over 40 years, Laura Rico has served the educational community in a far-reaching capacity as teacher, leader, dedicated trade unionist, and a political and social activist.
Laura began her teaching career in El Monte’s Mountain View district, and then transferred to ABC, becoming Lead Teacher at the Artesia High School Children’s Center. In the January 1977 edition of ABC Teacher she said, “The reason I support ABCFT is because it recognized the fact that Children’s Center teachers are teachers! ABCFT’s affiliation with the AFL-CIO has proved that it has the expertise in collective bargaining. In the ABCFT, ‘Todos somos hermanos.’” We are all brothers.

She also served as a union leader with ABCFT, CFT and AFT. She began union leadership with ABCFT as a Vice President at Large in 1977. In this position she was involved in decertifying the ABC Teachers Association (a CTA affiliate) in 1980. After serving ABCFT in a variety of other capacities, she served on ABCFT’s first negotiations team and remained on the negotiating team until her retirement in 2011. From 1983-91 she served as ABCFT’s Executive Secretary and in 1991 she was elected Co-President of ABCFT. She then served as Co-President from 1991–95 and finally as President from 1995-2011.

In 1993 Laura, along with Don Saul, led ABCFT’s successful eight-day strike against the district which eventually led to the formation of the union’s first formal partnership with ABC Unified. After this strike Laura began the process of building ABC’s Labor-Management Partnership. The first action taken under her leadership after the strike was to remove a board policy that prohibited administrators from publicly voicing their concerns about the district. She felt that we needed strong administrators, strong teachers, and a strong union.

In 1995 she worked with Superintendent Tom Riley to lay the groundwork for partnership. In 1999, when the district hired Ron Barnes as superintendent, Laura and Ron began moving the partnership forward. She worked with Barnes to develop a mission statement and guiding principles for the partnership. She met with him weekly to discuss issues and to solve problems. The ABCFT strike became the catalyst for future changes in labor-management relations and the ABC Partnership is now heralded as a national model for successful collaboration between a teacher’s union and a school district’s management.

During her term as ABCFT President, Laura was elected CFT Vice President and later became its Convention Chair. If this wasn’t enough, she was then asked to serve as an AFT Vice President from 2002-11 which gave Laura the opportunity to work with locals across the United States and around the world.

During this same time she also was appointed to the AFT Civil and Human Rights Committee and she served as a member of the AFT Teachers Program And Policy Council. She worked with locals all over the country and in foreign countries, including South Africa and Columbia. She also served on many other committees while serving as an AFT Vice President. In 2005 she was elected as a Vice President of the AFL-CIO, where she served until her retirement in 2011.

One of Laura’s proudest achievements has been laying the foundation for and establishing the ABCFT-Manenberg partnership, known as MAAP, which partners students from ABC’s Artesia High School with students from Manenberg High School in South Africa. The collaboration helps break the silence on HIV/AIDS through a AIDS awareness program.

In 2014-15 Laura became the ABCFT Retiree president, breaking new ground for retirees as co-chair of the CFT Retiree Organizing Committee and helping to form the CFT Council of Retired Members that will have, after this CFT Convention, its own president who will sit on the CFT Executive Council.

In 2013, Laura was asked to serve as an AFT consultant, assisting U.S. locals reach their full potential, which she continues to do. Laura has left a legacy of a strong local and her impact has been felt in union households around the world. One of her favorite sayings that pretty much sums her up is, “You want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.”