#DumpDeVos: Demonstrators at a boisterous event in Oakland — organized on social media in just a few days — denounced the nomination of Betsy DeVos for U.S. Secretary of Education. Hundreds of parents, educators, and students gathered at a noon rally on January 31.
Speakers raised concerns about DeVos’s fundamental lack of experience in public education, her support for corporate charters and school vouchers, and her track record dismantling public schools in her home state of Michigan.
The protest played out in schools across the state too. The Salinas Valley Federation of Teachers waged a “Wear Red for Ed” campaign in support of public education and in opposition to the DeVos appointment. With less than a day’s notice, many members donned red to draw attention to the dangers facing public education.
Despite the passionate protests, DeVos was confirmed in February by a one-vote margin. The AFT and other national groups have ramped up their watchdog efforts in the Capitol.
#AcademicFreedom: Following last November’s election, the Republican Club at Orange Coast College sent a member into the class of instructor Olga Perez Stable Cox. His mission: record her. During her human sexuality class, answering a student’s question, Cox said that in her opinion Trump was a “white supremacist,” and that Vice President Mike Pence was “anti-gay.”
The video was posted on the internet, and abetted by a conservative media push, she faced a blizzard of insults, called a “libtard,” “Marxist,” “nutcase,” “vile leftist filth” and a “satanic cult member.” Death threats forced her to move out of her house and go on leave for the remainder of the semester.
Meanwhile, her union and student supporters came out, 200 strong, for a campus rally in her defense.
The student who recorded her ignored the policy in the syllabus, campus policy, and California state law, in recording Cox without permission. College administrators suspended the student, but then retracted the suspension after another wave of right-wing emails and phone calls.
The faculty union, the Coast Federation of Educators, issued a statement saying the union is “deeply disappointed that the Coast Community College District administration has capitulated to individuals and groups who threatened and bullied students, faculty and administration. On behalf of a planned, covert partisan agenda, one student’s actions have harmed the educational experience for all students and made classrooms less safe.”
#FreeCity: In November San Francisco voters passed Proposition W, which promises to raise $44 million annually through a small increase in property tax rates on properties worth over $5 million. Although it was sold as a mechanism to make City College of San Francisco tuition-free, the measure also sent money to numerous programs. Subsequent negotiations between Supervisor Jane Kim and the mayor resulted in an agreement.
Starting this fall, residents already receiving financial aid will be eligible for more assistance — reimbursement for books and transportation vouchers. Students taking 12 or more units can receive an additional $500, and those taking 6 to 11 units $200.
Union’s Building Power program works
Five locals in the Building Power program last fall developed organizing plans to increase member engagement.
Coast Federation of Classified Employees increased membership to 79 percent and strengthened its Committee on Political Education. The local scheduled mini-trainings with the executive council and conducted “Walk with Me” visits to recruit site reps.
El Camino Classified Employees increased membership to 78 percent and developed a plan to win better conditions for night shift custodians. (See related story)
Glendale College Guild increased membership to 91 percent, activating new members through its Membership and Mobilization Task Force and welcoming over 100 people at its annual fall meeting.
Lawndale Federation of Classified Employees added 34 new members while focused on winning a strong contract for noon duty employees and recruiting new site reps.
Los Rios College Federation of Teachers added 24 new members, and mobilized faculty to attend trustees meetings to secure sanctuary status for students, faculty and staff. (See related story)
Megan Gross, member of the Poway Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 2357, and special education instructor at Del Norte High School, was named as one of the four finalists for National Teacher of the Year. Gross teaches an autism spectrum disorder day class and is an advocate for fully integrating students of different ability levels into classroom and school activities. She was previously honored as one of the five California Teachers of the Year.
“Megan has worked diligently to end the social and physical isolation of people with intellectual and development disabilities,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. “I am proud to have her represent California.”
The National Teacher of the Year will be announced this spring.
Janice Lobo Sapigao, a part-time English instructor at Skyline College and member of the San Mateo Community College Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1493, published a documentary poetry collection microchips for millions about the exploitation of immigrant women in the Silicon Valley — those like her mother, an assembly line worker there. The book, published by the Philippine American Writers & Artists, Inc., uses binary code, the Filipino language, personal observation, and scholarship, to draw out the social layers of a global commodity — the microchip. Learn more and order the book.
David Mielke, teacher of sociology and psychology at Culver City High School, president of the Culver City Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1343, and a CFT vice president, was the guest on the radio show Dr. Peter Breggin Hour on the Progressive Radio Network, where he discussed an alternative view of psychology and the issues that arise from teaching psychology from that point of view. Breggin has questioned the use of drugs to treat what he believes are family or social issues. Mielke gave vivid examples of the disabling effects of diagnoses such as ADHD, and how they can push students toward learned helplessness and self-doubt. Listen to the January 18 show or download the podcast.
Christian Clifford, a teacher of theology at Serra High School in San Mateo, and a member of the San Francisco Archdiocesan Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 2240, has written a third book about California’s colonial history — Meet Pablo Tac: Indian from the Far Shores of California — the story of a Native Californian Catholic. Pablo Tac (1822-1841) was Luiseño Indian, born and raised at Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, located in present-day Oceanside. Learn more about his unique story.
Paul Karrer, a retired elementary teacher and member of the North Monterey County Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 4008, recently had his 14th story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Random Acts of Kindness. The book features “101 Stories of Compassion and Paying Forward” including Karrer’s story “Faith Restored.”
Steve Harris, a retired member of the ABC Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 2317, and an elected school board member in the Centralia Elementary District since 2012, worked with district stakeholders to pass a school bond in November. After touring the Union Iron Workers Training Center in La Palma with a representative from the Building and Construction Councils, the board voted to hire union labor, bringing journeyman construction skills to district upgrades, as well as living wages, health benefits, and safe working conditions to the workers.
Social Security and Medicare targeted by majority party
Candidate Donald Trump told the American people he didn’t want to cut Social Security, but Republicans have opposed the system since its creation during the Depression.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has talked about “means testing” Social Security. In other words, wealthy seniors wouldn’t get benefits because they don’t need them. But they wouldn’t pay into the system, either, and losing the top 10 percent of contributors could lead to financial havoc.
If that happens, the leader of the CFT Council of Retired Members expects conservatives to argue for ending Social Security or making the system voluntary because it no longer benefits all Americans. “They hate single payer plans because they work,” said John Perez. “When everyone pays into it, costs go down and everyone benefits.”
And while Trump hasn’t yet attacked Medicare, or even tweeted about it, for tens of millions of seniors who could not afford health coverage without it, the stakes couldn’t be higher. More than 55.5 million Americans — including nearly 6 million Californians — are Medicare beneficiaries.
The average teacher in California retires at 62, but Medicare doesn’t kick in until 65. During those three years, retirees pay more for coverage than active employees of any age. When Medicare does become their main insurer, premiums plummet. At Kaiser, for example, they decrease by 80 percent and at Anthem, by 60 percent.
Ryan has wanted for years to turn Medicare into a voucher plan. “And he doesn’t want a voucher that increases with the cost of living,” Perez said, “so its value will go down every year because of inflation. That means retirees will pay more of the cost, plus any increases in the premium.”
The California Retired Teachers Association and others are channeling a growing wellspring of support for Medicare and Medicaid into sending the Republican majority in Congress a message: Protect, improve, and expand Medicare and Medicaid.
“Congress is already discussing ‘reforms’ to Medicare and the Affordable Care Act,” said CalRTA Executive Director Angelique Hill, “but Ryan has blocked his office email and toll-free phone to prevent opponents from sharing their opinions.”
Hill said retirees are mailing cards directly to Ryan’s home address: Honorable Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, 700 St. Lawrence Ave. Janesville, WI 53545.
— By Steve Weingarten, CFT Reporter
Council builds solidarity by engaging with members on issues that unite
Before the election our focus was on leadership development,” says Mia McIver, vice president for organizing for the University Council-AFT, “and the election brought us a sense of new urgency.” Strong leaders will provide the underpinning for the campaigns the union will undertake as it faces the Trump administration and a predictable tsunami of anti-union and anti-education measures.
Twelve members recruited as organizing fellows last year were trained to lead workshops on their home campuses, develop local activists and brainstorm ideas for increasing the power of the union. The program was funded by a grant from the CFT.
On January 28, lecturers and librarians got together to coordinate a statewide campaign plan. That includes several elements, McIver explains. “We are building coalitions, lobbying our legislators, developing stronger community relations, and exercising the rights we already have, especially in terms of academic freedom and job security.”
The greatest threat to the union is a new court case that will again challenge agency fees, as the Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association case did last year. The contract between the UC-AFT and the university contains a clause stating that employees in the bargaining unit who are not members of the union and not paying dues shall, as a continued condition of employment, be required to pay a fair share service fee to the union.
We really want to connect with the issues we know people care about, and to a sense of a greater purpose beyond education and labor issues.” — Mia McIver, UC-AFT Vice President of Organizing
“Loss of the agency fee is extremely important to our union,” McIver warns. “It is an existential threat.” The Friedrichs case sought to bar the fee, and it went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Previously the court found, in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that all employees who benefit from the provisions of a collective bargaining agreement — including non-members — must pay their “fair share” of the costs of bargaining wages, benefits and working conditions, and representing employees in grievances.
After Judge Antonin Scalia died, the court split 4-4, in effect upholding agency fees. New cases have already been filed which will undoubtedly go to the Supreme Court as well, however. After the Republican-dominated Congress refused to hold a vote on President Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia, within days of taking office President Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch as a replacement. It is widely believed he would overturn the Abood decision and bar agency fees.
The UC-AFT organizing strategy is not waiting for the decision. “We’ve developed commitment cards, in which lecturers and librarians say they’re sticking with the union,” McIver says. Activists are developing their arguments to persuade members, and non-members alike of the union’s importance, and the way agency fee money helps finance organizing and representation.
“We really want to connect with the issues we know people care about, and to a sense of a greater purpose beyond education and labor issues,” she explains. “Our members are generally very opposed to Trump’s immigration orders, so we try to show that one value of the union is that it gives people a structure for working on political issues. It’s like saying, ‘Are you opposed to this? Then come work with us.’ The same is true for the way people see the appointment of Betsy DeVos as a threat.”
The UC-AFT has also concentrated on the fights that affect members directly. “We just had a big victory at UCLA,” McIver enthuses, “where the university tried to remove 13 librarians from the bargaining unit. The PERB decision in our favor was so strong that the administration didn’t even try to appeal it.” (See opposite page)
The union’s organizing strategy isn’t just a defensive one, however, and is moving beyond the lecturer and librarian bargaining units it has historically represented. Recently 94 percent of the 50 teachers at the Preuss School, a grade 6-12 school for low-income students on the UC San Diego campus, chose UC-AFT in a card check process. The union already represents teachers at the similar Lab School at UCLA.
“There are other groups of non-represented faculty on UC campuses,” McIver says, “including visiting assistant professors, adjuncts [a very specialized title in the UC system] and others. Where there is interest we look forward to working with people, and given our members’ creativity, I’m sure we’ll be hearing more soon.”
— By David Bacon, CFT Reporter
UC-AFT wins significant ruling in support of librarians
Since 2013, the library administration at UCLA has contended that 13 librarian positions should be removed from the bargaining unit on the grounds that they are “supervisory,” as defined by the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act. Eventually the university filed a claim with the Public Employee Relations Board to remove the positions and incumbents from the bargaining unit.
The case went before a PERB hearing officer a year ago. UC-AFT argued that the duties singled out by UCLA as supervisory did not meet the legal definition under HEERA. In January, PERB decided in favor of UC-AFT and ruled that all 13 positions will remain in the bargaining unit — a significant victory in the union’s fight to maintain the professional status of librarians at the University of California.
How a rogue agency damaged colleges in Compton and San Francisco
The Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges, a private 19-member panel that oversees community colleges in California and Hawaii, has been much in the news over its threat to pull City College of San Francisco’s accreditation — a battle the union and college recently won with the January 13 news that its accreditation is fully restored for the next seven years.
But the fight started in 2005 when the ACCJC pulled the accreditation of Compton College. Only this February was the governing power of the Compton Board of Trustees finally returned.
The commission’s treatment of City College has been particularly shocking, resulting in the school losing almost a third of its enrollment. Critics have called the commission punitive, harsh, and unregulated, and the CFT has led the fight for a new accreditor.
What follows is a summary of the events and the CFT’s winning fightback campaign.
July 2005: ACCJC President Barbara Beno tells Compton College of the decision to terminate its accreditation. After an appeal, the college loses accreditation in August 2006. Compton is able to keep its doors open as a satellite campus of the neighboring El Camino College.
During the following years: CFT leaders call to national attention that the commission sanctioned colleges at a rate startlingly higher than that of other accreditation agencies, with nearly 90 percent of the sanctions in the country from 2003 to 2008, and more than half of the state’s community colleges being put under sanction since Beno became president of the commission.
June 2012: The ACCJC places City College of San Francisco on “show cause” — meaning it has to show why it should remain accredited. Going from no sanction to the highest level except closure was unprecedented — as was the amount of time City College was given to deal with addressing the issues raised — about eight months rather than the usual two years.
In the following months: The CFT launches a campaign to fight back against this arbitrary, unwarranted decision. The union challenged the commission in a process known as “third party comment,” and with the faculty union at City College, AFT Local 2121, jointly filed a 280-page complaint with both the commission and the U.S. Department of Education. CFT also filed a lawsuit, The People vs. ACCJC, (along with a lawsuit filed by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera) to get an injunction to keep City College of San Francisco open.
July 2013: ACCJC votes to terminate City College’s accreditation effective July 2014; the college and the state Board of Governors authorize a special trustee to manage the district.
January 2014: A San Francisco Superior Court judge grants an injunction to keep City College open.
June 2014: The union’s campaign led the California State Auditor to examine the ACCJC. Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama) who requested the audit, called commission President Beno the most “arrogant, condescending and dismissive individual” he had ever dealt with.
July 2014: The union secured stabilization funds in the state budget for City College to counter declining enrollment caused by the ACCJC sanctions.
August 2014: In response to the “third party comment,” the Department of Education stated that ACCJC was deficient and had violated state law and federal regulations.
September 2014: The governor signs CFT-sponsored bills requiring the ACCJC to submit biennial reports to the Legislature (AB 1942) and the state Board of Governors to set benchmarks for returning an elected board of trustees if a special trustee is appointed (AB 2087).
October 2014: The five-day trial takes place in The People vs. ACCJC, which charges that the commission “engaged in unfair and unlawful business practices in sanctioning City College,” and that “these reckless actions have already caused harm to students, faculty, and other employees of City College, and will cause much greater harm both to them and to San Francisco if the college closes.”
January 2015: The judge’s ruling from The People vs. ACCJC affirms that ACCJC broke the law in denying the college due process rights during accreditation review and orders the ACCJC to revisit its decision. A California Court of Appeals confirmed the ruling in June.
August 2015: The state Chancellor’s Task Force on Accreditation released a report criticizing the way the ACCJC does business, capped with a recommendation that California find a new accreditor. The Board of Governors directs the report to the U.S. Department of Education.
December 2015: Members travel to Washington, D.C., to speak before the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, or NACIQI, which oversees regional accreditors, about the need to remove the ACCJC and replace it with a fair and capable agency.
December 2016: Commission President Beno placed on administrative leave ahead of her expected retirement in June 2017.
January 2017: The ACCJC grants City College full accreditation for seven years.
February 2017: The state chancellor announced that the elected board of trustees of Compton College would be allowed to govern the district again, and proposed that accreditation be fully restored by 2020. Members and leaders travel to Washington, DC again to speak before NACIQI.
Going forward: The CFT continues a federal lawsuit against ACCJC, the state chancellor and Board of Governors, and its fight for a new accreditor. The U.S. Department of Education has recommended that the ACCJC retain its authority over community colleges for another 18 months despite complaints that the agency failed to meet standards, treated City College of San Francisco unfairly.NACIQI will vote on this recommendation and then it goes to the new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.
— By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter
Midnight organizing at El Camino College pays off
During the day, Manhattan Beach Boulevard overflows with traffic, but the only thing whipping down the street at 10 p.m. is a cold night wind. To the north, the lights of approaching jets trace the landing path to LAX in the night sky.
Darlene Esquivel pulls into a staff parking lot alongside the facilities management building at El Camino College. Esquivel is one of about 30 custodians on the graveyard shift who put the Torrance campus back in shape nightly while more than 22,000 students sleep.
“We do everything, from mopping and waxing to dusting,” she said. “And whatever the day shift missed, we do that, too.”
The custodians are members of AFT Local 6142. About 380 staff belong to the El Camino Classified Employees. Local President Luukia Smith said the CFT’s Building Power campaign was a shot in the arm for midnight activism.
“Night shift is out there by themselves. There was no union rep, and they felt alone,” Smith said. “This campaign was our opportunity to make changes.”
Five new organizing committee members — Onnis Flores, Barry Cunnigan, Earl Eiland, Lenya Bernal and Esquivel — dedicated two nights to speak one-on-one with all the night shift custodians.
Union organizers held a training session at which the night crew identified short staffing as the most pressing issue and drafted a petition calling on the district to collaborate on workload.
“Short staffing has been an ongoing problem for years,” Flores said. “We feel the pressure to do more and more, to the point that we feel bullied.”
Custodians presented the petition to the district in December. Except for two probationary employees, all had signed it. In January, El Camino supervisors, the facilities director, and human resources director set a precedent and met with the full night crew.
“The district accepts that they’re short-staffed, but claims they can’t hire right now,” Smith said.
Short staffing caused by budget cuts during the past decade has worsened when districts build new facilities but fail to increase maintenance budgets. El Camino, for example, has construction plans through 2025.
Custodians are assigned “runs,” a regular set of rooms or floors in a building or facility, similar to workloads assigned to hotel staff. A typical floor might include from 10 to 17 classrooms and four to six bathrooms. Esquivel’s run, for example, includes a dean’s office, lounges, photo labs, and other spots.
There are nearly 50 runs on campus and only 30 custodians to do them. When vacations and sick coworkers are taken into account, staff are almost always expected to work two or more runs per shift. They can be written up for insubordination if they don’t do their regular run and any extra assignments.
“Management claims they are demanding more from custodians because they have higher expectations for cleanliness in the new buildings,” Smith said.
The district may have higher expectations, but Smith said they aren’t based on having deployed more custodians or more advanced equipment. According to the levels of cleanliness developed by the Association of Physical Plant Administrators, El Camino can expect an environment that ranks as “moderate dinginess,” the fourth of five levels. (See The five levels of clean)
The district argues that the custodians’ runs don’t need to be recalculated because new buildings replaced old ones without adding square footage. Which might be true if it wasn’t for the major new stadium on campus.
“Game days mean long nights for custodians,” Cunnigan said.
Short staffing isn’t the only problem on night shift. Encampments are common in the adjacent public park, leading to security concerns. When homeless come on campus, college police are supposed to handle encounters with students, faculty and staff. Protocols aren’t followed as closely, however, at 3:30 in the morning.
Esquivel said the district expects custodians to clean buildings even when timers have turned off the lights for the night.
“We go into restrooms and don’t know if we’re in there alone,” she said. “It’s dangerous. I have three kids and I want to go home after work.”
— By Steve Weingarten, CFT Reporter
The five levels of clean
A national study of college students found a correlation between the cleanliness of a school’s facilities and academic achievement. Cleanliness and Learning in Higher Education ranks clean environments fourth after noise, air temperature, and lighting.
Conducted by the Association of Physical Plant Administrators, the study was based on the group’s five levels of clean identified in its Custodial Staffing Guidelines for Educational Facilities. The rating system takes into account square footage to be cleaned, number of custodians, and efficiency of the equipment they will use. Using that formula, El Camino can expect the fourth level of cleanliness, Moderate Dinginess. Here is the entire yardstick:
Level 1 – Orderly Spotlessness
Level 2 – Ordinary Tidiness
Level 3 – Casual Inattention
Level 4 – Moderate Dinginess
Level 5 – Unkempt Neglect
» Learn how each level is defined in detail.