CFT Convention • Sacramento • March 31–April 2, 2017

Delegates march for immigrant rights

DACA students, educators speak out at ICE building, state Capitol

Friday, Cesar Chavez Day, the first day of the CFT Convention, Art Pulaski of the California Labor Federation promised the delegates that he will make sure other unions — the plumbers, carpenters, and building trades — back up the CFT in their fight against charter schools and privatization. Then he got them fired up for the march in support of immigrant rights.

“Are you ready to raise a little hell? Are you ready to fight for immigrant justice?” Pulaski asked the delegates before they filed out to march past Sacramento’s Immigration Customs Enforcement office on the way to the steps of the state Capitol building.

At a rally in front of the ICE office, Kent Wong from the UCLA Labor Center addressed the hundreds of marchers, telling them he couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate Cesar Chavez Day. In his 20 years of teaching, many of his best students have been undocumented, Wong said. One of those students, Hugo Romero, also spoke. 

“My mother was detained in a private detention center and she said it was a living hell,” he said. “I’ve seen the impact of privatization, and I will fight like hell to prevent privatization of schools.”

One of the marchers, Robert Chacanaca, president of the Santa Cruz Council of Classified Employees, said we need to recognize that all human beings have a right to be on the planet. 

“I’m a Native American,” he said. “I’m always confused when one group of immigrants is against another group of immigrants.”

On the Capitol steps, Los Rios College Federation President Dean Murakami recited a list of the lies Trump has told, and Gemma Abels, president of Morgan Hill Federation, reported numbers showing how immigrants make a difference in the United States. Early Childhood Federation President Gloria Garcia spoke of the fear educators are seeing in their students. 

“One boy said to his teacher, ‘Do you know who Mr. Trump is?’ The teacher said yes. He said, ‘Do you know Mr. Trump wants to send my parents back, and I’ll never see them again?’” Garcia recounted. “Thank you for standing up here today. We have to be together and defend our students. They’re living in fear.”

See photos from the March for Immigrant Rights on Facebook.

Member voices on the street

“All human beings are legal. I came to this country when I was in my 30s. You don’t change the country of your birth lightly. A lot of people helped me. I have to help others — I feel it in my bones.” — Pinky Uppal, special education teacher, ABC Federation of Teachers

“We need to support all our children. We have students from South America and Yemen. They’re coming to school hysterical. One little boy from Syria was hysterical for two hours.” — Mary Lavalais, student advisor, United Educators of San Francisco

“The area where I teach has a large number of farmworkers. I’ve seen the fear and how it’s hard to concentrate on schoolwork. Some students have left school. All the teachers see the effects. I’m just standing up for the students.” — Kent Johnson, English teacher, North Monterey County Federation of Teachers

Panel on point: Understanding rights, rules, and the law

It’s not the work of a few vigilantes when Immigration Customs Enforcement agents target students, said Laura Flores of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation — it’s becoming the law of the land. 

In a panel discussion, “Rights, Rules and the Law,” Flores spoke about the need to make students safe and welcome. She said Trump’s administration has eliminated the priorities for deportation, making anyone undocumented a target. That’s 12 million people, and Flores pointed out that doesn’t just affect those 12 million, but their families and communities as well. 

The Berkeley Council of Classified Employees’ Jocelyn Foreman sees those people every day at her job as a family engagement specialist. What she and others like her do makes a big difference, she said, by offering students and their families support. 

Transgender students also need to feel safe, said Rick Oculto of the Transform California Project. One way is calling them by the pronoun they prefer. To drive that point home, Oculto talked about what happens at the dog park if you refer to a male dog, “He’s such a good dog!” 

“The owner says, ‘It’s a she,’ and you change it immediately, right?” Oculto said. “That’s for a dog. And we’re talking about people here.” 

The California Labor Foundation’s Angie Wei says her organization does trainings on what to do if ICE shows up. They tell people not to open the door and to only give their name — easy to tell people, but hard for them to do when someone with a gun is at the door. The terror in immigrant communities is palpable, Wei says.

“I’m filled with fear about how we come out on the other side of this,” she said. “The responsibility falls squarely on your shoulders to create a whole new generation of unionists and activists and fighters for justice.”

Wei also talked about SB 54, legislation to create a sanctuary state and AB 450, which would protect undocumented immigrants from workplace raids.

In a related workshop, César Moreno Pérez with AFT Human Rights & Community Relations encouraged people to do what they can to support immigrant rights — calling legislators, talking to colleagues, doing trainings, and using resources on Share My Lesson. 

“Federal law says schools must accept all students,” he said. “Diversity is our greatest strength. We need to have welcoming spaces for everyone.”

»Learn more on CFT’s Safe Haven resources page»Learn more on CFT’s Safe Haven resources page

Spirited debate on resolutions

Issues range from academic freedom and racial justice to community schools

At the CFT Convention March 31 through April 2, delegates took action on 23 policy resolutions addressing topics from community schools to immigrant rights to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Resolution 23, “Defending academic freedom in the 21st Century,” arose from an incident with an instructor at the Orange Coast College, said Lee Gordon, Coast Federation member and Academic Senate president at the college, who spoke in favor of the resolution.

“It’s very hard to defend yourself on the local level,” he said. “We need some sort of rapid response plan in place. It’s challenging to deal one on one with Fox News.”

Gordon was talking about Professor Olga Perez Stable Cox. A student secretly videotaped Cox making remarks critical of Trump. The video was posted to Facebook, went viral, and was covered extensively by the right-wing media. 

Lita Blanc, the president of United Educators of San Francisco, also spoke in favor of the resolution, mentioning that a teacher in Mountain View who spoke against Trump was suspended. Blanc said contract provisions protecting academic freedom are necessary. 

“We need to teach the truth,” she said. “We want to carry out our work, and we need academic freedom to do it.”

Rob Schneiderman, the president of the Coast Federation of Educators, said the media attention had been overwhelming and thanked CFT for its help.

“It was a planned attack on the faculty by the right wing,” he said. “We need more organization and support — there’s nothing in the contract to help us support our faculty members.”

Resolution 14, “Reclaim the promise of racial equity for Black males in California,” passed unanimously.

Van Cedric Williams, a high school history teacher and a member of UESF, said his students will be happy to hear about the resolution and thanked the CFT for supporting it.

“Let’s not just speak about it, let’s be about it,” Williams said.

UESF’s Susan Solomon, United Teachers Los Angeles’ Ingrid Gunnell and Cecily Myart-Cruz, City College of San Francisco’s AFT 2121’s Tim Killikelly, Dennis Cox from the Retiree Chapter of the ABC Federation of Teachers, and Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers’ Gemma Abels were among other speakers in favor of the resolution.

Cathy Campbell, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, called passing this policy one of the most important actions of the convention. The resolution was based on a report from the CFT Racial Equity Task Force, Reclaiming the Promise of Racial Equity for Black Males in California, that she called a “laser-focused document that is actually a call to action” for things that can be done locally.

Jim Miller of the AFT Guild in San Diego spoke in favor of Resolution 11, which he co-authored, “Make International Workers’ Day a state holiday.” It proposed combining the holidays for Lincoln and Washington into a single holiday and making May 1st International Workers’ Day in California. “This is the direction we need to go,” Miller said.

There was much debate on this, with some delegates saying they didn’t want to go back and tell their members that they had forfeited a holiday. They proposed just asking for May 1 as International Workers’ Day without offering to give up anything. An amendment to the resolution, stating this, was proposed. Jim Mahler, the president of the AFT Guild, spoke against the amendment, saying the purpose of the language was to avoid fiscal impact.

“It’s not viable if we just say we want an extra holiday,” he said.

The vote on the amendment was so close delegates were required to stand to be counted. It lost the vote and the resolution to create a new holiday to honor laborers passed.

Significant resolutions passed by delegates

1 Provide assistance to members about immigration enforcement
4 Increase support for local unions working to establish community schools
5 Prohibit classroom recording without instructor consent in support of academic freedom
6 Amend definition of probationary period for classified employees in Education Code
11 Make International Workers’ Day a state holiday
12 Provide paid pregnancy disability and maternity leaves
14 Reclaiming the promise of racial equity for Black males in California
18 Oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline
20 Increase support for organizing new retiree chapters
22 Taking a humane stance on solitary confinement
27 Oppose UC tuition and fee increases

»Delegates also passed Amendment 1, containing the annual constitutional per capita increase. Find all constitutional amendments and resolutions passed by delegates in the Resolutions Report.

Officer elections: Pechthalt, Freitas reelected

Delegates overwhelming elected the Unity Slate, led by CFT President Joshua Pechthalt and Secretary Treasurer Jeff Freitas. The slate’s 24 vice presidents were elected from among a field of 29 candidates. Pechthalt and Freitas have now begun their fourth two-year term as leaders of the California Federation of Teachers.

See more photos on Facebook. Members in Motion. Highlights Recap

Tom Steyer: Addresses climate, education 

It’s typical for educators to lead the way, philanthropist Tom Steyer told attendees at the CFT Convention. As the son and grandson of teachers, Steyer founded NextGen Climate, a non-profit that acts politically to prevent climate disaster.

CFT President Joshua Pechthalt introduced Steyer, saying he’s pledged to give at least half of his money to causes such as environmental justice and voting rights. Steyer also supports public schools and spoke to the challenges facing them.

“When the Secretary of Education does not support or even understand public education, it’s almost as if the Secretary of the Environment wanted to gut the Clean Air Act or the Secretary of Energy wanted to dismantle that department,” Steyer said, referring to Betsy DeVos, Scott Pruitt and Rick Perry, respectively. “We need better wages and benefits, and the right to organize, and we are never going to get them from a president who’s made a career of cheating employees and a party that wants to gut labor.”

California needs to continue to lead by standing up for immigrants rights, against the rollback of environmental protections, and for public education. Steyer added that he’s working on campuses around the country with NextGen, involving community partners and unions. He’s also on a committee with AFT President Randi Weingarten and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, and they’re working to refute what Steyer calls “a few big lies” that Republicans keep repeating.

AFT leader brings perspective and vision

Lorretta Johnson says unions and communities united can take on the right

AFT Secretary Treasurer Lorretta Johnson pledged to join the CFT in resisting. Except for one thing. 

“I went to jail once in a teachers’ strike,” she said. “My husband heard I was in jail and he didn’t come get me — I vowed I’d never go back.”

In 1966, Johnson started off as a teacher’s aide in Baltimore, making $2.25 an hour without benefits, Paula Phillips, then president of the Council of Classified Employees, said in her introduction. Johnson went on to organize paraprofessionals and became a political force.

Johnson called the members of the CFT “first responders” to the new administration and its policies. 

“I don’t even want to call them policies — this man is crazy,” she said about the current president. “When he pushes for more deportations, we are the ones who comfort the students.”

Johnson encouraged attendees to make their focus local — on governors and legislators. She also said young people are necessary to the fight, but to give them room.

“My daddy used to tell me about walking to school in the snow and every time he told it, the snow got deeper,” she said. “I tell young people, ‘You don’t have to do it the way I did — just get it done.’” 

People have been told if they work hard, they can get a shot at the American dream, Johnson said, adding she was part of that dream. Her father died when she was 14, and her mother raised her and her eight older siblings on her father’s pension. Now Johnson has a degree in education, and the Maryland Democratic Party named her a Labor Leader of the Year.

“The union movement collectively made Lorretta Johnson,” she said. 

“I never thought America wasn’t great,” she added, referring to the 45th president’s declaration that he will make America great again. “Everything could be made a little better. I could stand to lose a little weight. I could change my hair around. But that doesn’t mean I’m not great.”

Johnson urged delegates to fight against Trump’s agenda, saying if unions work with communities, they can take on the right wing. “If you put your hand up, they can break your fingers, but when you turn that into a fist, they have hell to pay,” Johnson said, demonstrating with a raised fist. She ended with another declaration of strength. 

“If you see Lorretta Johnson in a fight with a bear, help the bear.”

Tony Thurmond speaks from the heart

Announces bid for state superintendent of public instruction after Convention

Assemblymember Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond) didn’t have an easy start in life. His father abandoned the family, and his mother, a Panamanian immigrant, died of cancer when he was six.

Calling education “the great equalizer” that made it possible for him to become a state legislator, Thurmond talked about the cousin in Philadelphia who took him and a brother in after his mom died.

“She raised us as her sons and saved my life,” he said about his cousin, adding that she modeled education as the way out of poverty. “She worked a lot of jobs and went to night school. She was a nurse’s aide and a shop steward. I was on the picket line as a teenager, and I knew right away my walk was going to be with labor and people who fight for working people.”

Thurmond went on to be a social worker, earning a dual master’s degree from Bryn Mawr College in social work and law. He served on the Richmond City Council in the East Bay and on the West Contra Costa Unified School Board before becoming a legislator.

Thurmond spoke about the importance of school staff and how he relied on them when working in schools.

“The school secretary was my best friend — she always knew where the principal was, so I always knew where the principal was,” he said. “And custodians, you better know how to work with your custodians to run an after-school program. All these caring adults who help our kids thrive — I love you all.”

Like many who spoke at the convention, Thurmond talked about the need to resist the anti-union, anti-immigrant, anti-worker administration in Washington.

“We have a president who thinks tweeting and governing are the same thing,” he said. “We have a president attacking those who need the most — attacking the after-school programs, the arts, even attacking the free lunch program. I take that personally because I was on food stamps when you got actual stamps.”

Joking that he ate so much government cheese, he thought USDA was a brand name, Thurmond said he was thankful for the programs that fed him, and that he has heard from CFT members that many of their students come to school hungry.

“Thank you for all you do to support students like me,” he said.

Thurmond talked about the legislation to resist Trump such as SB 54 to make California a sanctuary state as well as bills he has authored: AB 43 to make private prisons put money into preschool programs, AB 45 to provide affordable housing for school employees, and AB 670 to include part-time playground supervisors in the classified service. (See full story)

Two days after the convention, Thurmond announced that he would run for superintendent of public instruction in 2018.

Kevin McCarty, Phil Ting: CFT Legislators of the Year

When the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges put City College of San Francisco on the severest sanction, a lot of legislators didn’t get it, said Tim Killikelly, president of AFT Local 2121, the faculty union there. 

“But Phil Ting got it and he understood and he was there helping to lead the fight for fair accreditation in California,” Killikelly said. “He worked very closely with us to show how the ACCJC failed us with its lack of transparency.”

Receiving the award for Legislator of the Year, Assemblymember Ting referred to the former president of the commission. “Barbara Beno and that commission picked on the wrong college and the wrong state,” he said. “Community college is not just where you go coming out of high school — it’s where you go if you’re 30 and decide you want to go to the culinary academy or if you’re 40 and want to be a coder.”

Assemblymember Kevin McCarty from Sacramento also received the award. Los Rios College Federation of Teachers President Dean Murakami introduced him, saying he had fought for restorative justice, mental health services for students, and debt relief. 

McCarty welcomed CFT members to his hometown and thanked Murakami for pronouncing his name correctly and not as Kevin McCarthy, a Republican congressman from Bakersfield, who, McCarty said, wants to arm educators so they can protect themselves from wolves and grizzly bears. Issues he’s focusing on include expanding early childhood education and making sure students can afford college. 

“This convention is about ‘organize and resist,’” McCarty said. “In California we’ve been doing that a long time.”

David Yancey: Honored with Ben Rust Award

Mark Newton says he can’t go anywhere in San José with David Yancey without having someone yell out, “Mr. Yancey! You were my favorite teacher!” 

Newton, a past recipient of the Ben Rust Award, and the first president of the San José/Evergreen Federation of Teachers, was presenting CFT’s highest honor to Yancey, former CFT vice president and leader of AFT Local 6157.

Newton shared presenting with a few others, all wanting to talk about Yancey’s skills as a union leader. Gemma Abels, president of the Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers, talked about Yancey’s work with the South Bay Labor Council, saying along with teaching his students history, he involves them in creating it, phone banking, and walking precincts for causes like Proposition 55 to extend a tax for schools on people earning over $250,000. 

“He’s not only a heavy lifter in the weight room, but in the South Bay Labor Council as well,” she said. 

Former legislator Paul Fong, now Local 6157 president, says his feet are still flopping around in the big shoes Yancey left to fill. He recalled how Yancey’s relentless calls led him to vote against a bill for two-tier tuition in higher education, which was eventually killed. 

Yancey joked he wished he knew the person everyone had been talking about, and went on to talk about CFT’s accomplishments, such as a tax on the highest earners for education and fighting the accreditation commission trying to revoke City College of San Francisco’s accreditation. 

“Being a member of any union is a noble thing, but this isn’t any union,” Yancey said. “This is the CFT, and it is so much more. It has accomplished so much for the people of this state. With Proposition 30 we taxed the rich for the first time in 40 years. We were in a fight for our sisters and brothers against the ACCJC, and it was really a fight for their very existence. It exemplifies the old union adage, ‘An injury to one is an injury to all.’”

Melinda Dart: Women in Education Award

The day after Donald Trump was elected president, Melinda Dart, CFT vice president and president of the Jefferson Elementary Federation in Daly City, saw a sixth-grade boy with his head on a desk, sobbing. Girls asked her how a person who’d said the things Trump said could have been elected president. Dart didn’t have an answer for that, but she was glad to see these sixth-graders angry. 

“We need to keep them engaged and organized and resisting,” she said. “Like Gloria Steinem said, ‘The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.’”

Dart, the recipient of CFT’s Women in Education Award, said that she will make the long drive to Sacramento often in the coming months to try to flip a red district to blue even though that is not appealing.

“I have to do it for the kids who are crying and upset,” she said. “Our kids are looking to us for leadership.”

Introducing Dart, Sergio Robledo-Maderazo, president of the AFT local in Daly City’s high school district, talked about her energy and how Dart, who he called a “strong, righteous feminist” had created ties with sister locals and pushed the Daly City Council to protect immigrants and renters. 

Dart gave credit to CFT for giving her local a Strategic Campaign Initiative grant and to her local for offering family education workshops and working to create community schools. Remembering when her 32-year-old son was born, and healthcare ended when you got pregnant, Dart said it was time to organize to end injustice. 

“Are we going to stand back and let immigrant families be torn apart and let public schools be sold?” she asked. “No! Organize and resist!”

— Convention Reporting by Emily Wilson