Rank & Files, Nov-Dec 2018

Kathryn Mayo, instructor of photography at Cosumnes River College and member of the Los Rios Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 2279, grew up in a rural farming community just outside Selma, Alabama. Her narrative photography work – We are Selma: The Selma Portrait Project – will be honored at the local’s Union Hall Gallery in Sacramento in February.

Mayo says there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the place that stands as a symbol and ground zero in the fight for civil rights.

“Selma has such a huge place in American history, and I realized my students didn’t have as great an understanding of where it fits in our history,” she said in an interview for the CalSTRS series Teacher Talk. “I felt if I could go back and do some sort of project to give people a better understanding of this place, it would be interesting to investigate. There’s so much pain involved in being from a place like Selma. There’s still a lot of work to be done there to bring the white and African American communities together.”

Mary Lavalais, paraeducator and member United Educators of San Francisco, AFT Local 61, received the San Francisco mayor’s first-ever Paraeducator of the Year award. The native San Franciscan began working in early childhood development in 1970 and joined the unified district as a student advisor in 1986.

Lavalais has been at the S.F. Community School since 2000 and represents instructional aides on the executive board of her union. She attended San Francisco City College, earned a bachelor’s degree in social work, and then a graduate degree in marriage, family, and child counseling at San Francisco State University.

The mayor based the awards on dedication and professionalism, as well as an educator’s ability to promote innovative learning, accountability, and equity and access in the classroom and school site.

Neelam Canto-Lugo, an adjunct professor of communications at Yuba College in Marysville, and member of the Yuba College Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 4952, was awarded the gold-level President’s Volunteer Service Award for her work in poorer communities of Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Nepal, among other countries.

Canto-Lugo’s list of volunteer activities is quite extensive and varied, from training Bangladeshis about sustainable food and organic farming with a business focus, to working with Nigerian faculty on developing coursework, curriculum, and educational policy at a polytechnic college.

In 2016, Canto-Lugo received the Volunteer of the Year Award from VEGA (the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance) for her “Farmer-to-Farmer” program work in Nepal. One of Canto-Lugo’s main missions has been to better the lives of children and women in these communities, many of whom suffer from a variety of cultural and socio-economic barriers. Most recently, Canto-Lugo has been working in Burma (Myanmar).

Julien Minard, a charter member of ABC Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 2317, and union president when collective bargaining rights were established, was honored by ABC Retired Chapter, AFT Local 2317-R, which named its 2018 student college scholarship in her honor, in gratitude and recognition of Minard’s service as a role model for future teachers.

Minard helped to coalesce the teachers, nurses and librarians of the district into a cohesive, progressive and dedicated unit. Under her stalwart direction, the ABC Federation defended women’s rights, and communicated around such hot-button issues as gender equity, bilingual and cross-cultural education, teacher stipends, diversity, and more.

The student scholarship goes to graduating seniors in the ABC district, recognizing their achievements, and encouraging their pursuit of teaching careers in public education.

Minard also worked for the CFT as a field representative and as its first training director.

Sandra Guzmán, an academic counselor at Sacramento City College and member of the Los Rios Community College Federation, AFT Local 2279, received the Quetzal Award from the Latino Leadership Council for her work with the Puente Project, implementing STEM support strategies, and her advocacy with the local union’s UndocuAlly program.

Guzman is an activist committed to social justice and increasing access to education for all communities regardless of background.The award recognized her “advocacy and dedication to Latino communities in the area of education.”


Kevin Cronin, a CFT field representative who recently retired from CFT, died November 19 in Palm Springs. He was 56.

Cronin served CFT local unions in the Los Angeles area for 17 years, negotiating countless contracts that improved the working conditions for teachers and support staff. In particular, he worked with a large number of private school locals and was the first to negotiate teacher salaries that surpassed the $100,000 mark. He negotiated the first contract for the instructional support staff at Pasadena City College after they joined the CFT. He also served as chief negotiator for the CFT staff union, the Field Representatives Union.

When Cronin joined CFT in 2001, he brought 20 years of labor activism with him as the former president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Association of Flight Attendants. Later he joined the union’s staff, where he was in charge of leadership development with a focus on internal organizing.

Cronin was a dedicated unionist his entire career and his negotiating talent brought improved benefits and conditions to all the workers he represented.

A celebration of his life will be held on January 12 at 11 am at the Center for Spiritual Living in Palm Desert.


Rank & Files, Sep-Oct 2018

Karrer The Baby FlightPAUL H. KARRER, a retired member of the North Monterey Federation of Teachers, Local 4008, published a 58-page fully illustrated booklet The Baby Flight about an orphan delivery he – an American teacher in Korea – made to the United States one Christmas Eve. Over 400,000 copies of the story are already in circulation in Chicken Soup, Open My Eyes Open My Soul and numerous periodicals. Diane Ravitch called Karrer’s work “a beautiful and moving story.” Karrer donates a percentage of his book’s profits to Ravitch’s organization, the Network for Public Education. The book is available from Barnes and Noble, in soft cover and for Nook. Explore more of Karrer’s work on his website.

SUSAN WESTBROOK, former president of the CFT Early Childhood/K-12 Council and a CFT Member-at-Large, will be presented the Distinguished Teacher Educator Award from the California Council on Teacher Education on October 19. This is an occasional award the CCTE gives to recognize special contributions long-time leaders have made to the organization. In her 24-year association with CCTE, Westbrook served on its board, presented at its conferences, and represented the organization in Sacramento, while always championing union values. She co-chaired CCTE’s Lives of Teachers Special Interest Group and the Policy Committee, building on the policy work she did for the CFT.

Hill The EgretRussell Hill, past president of the Tamalpais Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1985, and former editor of the California Teacher, launched his latest novel in July at a reading at the Book Depot in Mill Valley attended by union brothers and sisters, as well as friends and family. Hill is a three-time nominee for the Edgar Allen Poe award, and describes his newest work, The Egret, as a story about obsession, about an individual whose life becomes focused entirely on revenge after a hit and run driver pinwheeled his daughter’s car into the waters of Tomales Bay. Hill has published widely and in various genres, from poetry to teaching techniques. The Egret, published by Pleasure Boat Studio in Seattle, is available in bookstores, and from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Brenda Chan, a member of the Los Angeles College Faculty Guild, AFT Local 1521, who for the past 25 years served as a nurse clinician and educator, in both academic and service settings, was presented a Hayward Award for Excellence in Education by the California Community Colleges Board of Governors. Chan has assisted more than 2,000 students to achieve academic success by using student-centered teaching strategies and the latest educational technologies. Her pedagogy at East Los Angeles College is both inclusive and empowering to students, from providing accommodations according to the American with Disabilities Act, to supporting annual scholarship funds. Chan herself started as a student at East L.A. College, where she took prerequisites for the RN program. Hayward Award winners are selected by their peers for demonstrating the highest level of commitment to their students, college and profession; each winner receives a $1,250 cash award.

Shushanek Silvas, a part-time instructor for Fresno City College and member of the State Center Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1533, was also presented a Hayward Award for Excellence in Education by the California Community Colleges Board of Governors. Through her role in tutorial, specifically with reading and writing, she has implemented Essential Skills Workshops, while working with counseling and financial aid departments to create a platform of college student success skills. She helped design the English Placement Test Prep, which assisted students to place more accurately. Silvas’ recent research aims to understand the plight of adjunct faculty, who comprise a large portion of the student’s journey. In response to her findings, Silvas is developing a program to increase institutional cohesiveness and psychological safety, which will, as a result, improve the student experience.


Ruby DSC3341 CMYKJacki Fox Ruby, 80, a long-time educator and leader in the CFT, died August 12 of congestive heart failure. Ruby was an award-winning teacher and president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1078, who also served as the longest running leader of the CFT's EC/K-12 Council starting in 1993. By the time she stepped down a decade later, she had helped secure the movement against the No Child Left Behind Act. Ruby was passionate, caring and loyal. She was a strong fighter for educators, and for all working people. In this 1998 picture from CFT Convention, Ruby is shown with fellow council officer Mike Weimer, patiently listening to then Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin. In later years, Weimer and Ruby married. In 2011, Ruby was awarded the CFT's highest honor, the Ben Rust Award, for her dedication to union values. A memorial will be held December 30 in the Bay Area; details are pending.

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Mark Newton, former president of the San Jose/Evergreen Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 6157, and also a recipient of CFT Ben Rust Award, died on August 17, at age 61 after a long battle with cancer. Newton served the union for many years. After helping to organize faculty into the AFT/CFT in the early 2000s, Newton, a biology instructor, presided over the union the first seven years after being chartered. Newton was instrumental in building the local into a strong organization that fought for all faculty, especially adjunct faculty. After serving as president, Newton was the chief negotiator and grievance officer for another 15 years. He was a long-time member of the South Bay Labor Council executive board and received the CFT Ben Rust Award in 2010. Newton was a gentle soul; he was a ‘tender warrior’ who cared profoundly about students and the integrity of the work environment. A celebration of life will be held in the coming months; details are pending.

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Susie Chow, a member of United Teachers Los Angeles-Retired, has adopted Robert Hill Elementary School, and will help with everything from babysitting to support on the picket lines.

L.A. retirees adopt schools to support potential strike; new Santa Cruz chapter casts endorsements

Contract negotiations between United Teachers Los Angeles and L.A. Unified were already heading toward impasse when UTLA-Retired members began to “adopt” schools to support in case of a strike.

Since then, about 98 percent of UTLA members who cast ballots authorized a strike if necessary, and state mediators have joined the bargaining. Meanwhile, the “adopt-a-school” movement continues to grow. UTLA-R members are ready for duty at more than 100 schools where they once taught, their children attended, or near where they live.

About 4,500 certificated personnel belong to UTLA-R. Their value goes far beyond the $2.38 in dues they pay monthly. Membership includes union veterans like 92-year-old Loretta Toggenburger, who walked the UTLA picket lines in 1970 and 1989.

Retiree Chapter President John Perez, also a veteran of ’70 and ’89 and head of UTLA during the early 2000s, has “adopted” Roosevelt High, where he taught, and Polytechnic High, where his daughter graduated.

UTLA-R members are ready for duty at more than 100 schools where they once taught, their children attended, or near where they live.

UTLA-R Treasurer Mike Dreebin has adopted Mar Vista Elementary, which he often visited when he was UTLA elementary vice president, and still passes daily when walking his dog. Dreebin, a veteran of the 1989 walkout, has also adopted nearby Venice High School, and attends school-site strike committee meetings.

“Before,” Dreebin said, “the retirees were like a little club. We weren’t as politically oriented as we are now.”

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Susie Chow helps teachers at Robert Hill Elementary hand out leaflets to parents before school on October 5. 

Susie Chow’s t-shirt is emblazoned with “Still Fighting for Public Education.” Chow, who led the union’s highly lauded National Board Certification program, has adopted Robert Hill Lane, an elementary near her home. She is ready for anything from walking picket lines to babysitting strikers’ children.

Teaching as a career runs through many families, adding to the “family feeling” at many UTLA activities. Chow said she maintains close relations with colleagues she walked picket lines with in 1989.

“I’m still friends with the people I went on strike with 30 years ago.”

Chow added, “You can still belong to a union when you retire. I want people to know who we are and that we have a union.”

Teachers and classified employees in Santa Cruz felt the same way. 

Though separate AFT locals represent faculty and staff in Santa Cruz city schools, the community of retirees recently opted to form a united chapter, the Federation of Retired Educational Personnel, to represent them. 

“We’re all school employees,” said AFT Local 9990-R interim Vice President Lizann Keyes, who had been a member of AFT Local 2030, the Greater Santa Cruz Federation of Teachers.

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In Santa Cruz, the new Federation of Retired Educational Personnel joins the faculty and classified AFT unions during interviews for potential school board candidates.

Bill Philipps, the provisional president and acting treasurer of the new retiree chapter, was a custodian in city schools for 25 years. Philipps was also treasurer of AFT Local 6084, the Santa Cruz Council of Classified Employees.

Philipps, Keyes, and activist Glenn Maynard spent three days at AFT headquarters in 2016 learning the nuts and bolts of organizing and running a retiree chapter. Since then, retirees have been building momentum, especially through this year’s primary and general elections.

Local 9990-R members are fully engaged in Santa Cruz City School Board races, and taking cues from the active teacher and staff locals. For example, everyone supports candidates Jeremy Shonick – a CFT member – and Cynthia Hall Ranii.

“We retirees all know Jeremy, so of course we support him,” Keyes said.

Tony Thurmond’s campaign for Superintendent of Public Education is the retirees’ top priority for statewide races. There is also interest in two housing initiatives on the local ballot: Measure H to authorize up to $140 million in County bonds to build housing for teachers, veterans, and the homeless; and Measure M to establish a municipal board to control rents and limit evictions.

Keyes is excited about the potential for supporting schools, such as serving as chaperones on field trips to free up active faculty and staff. Other retirees want to focus on single payer health care and other social issues, and ensuring that news of benefit changes reaches retirees.

—By Steve Weingarten, CFT Reporter

Are Los Angeles Teachers Next?: Who’s next to join the strike wave? Read the recent report from Labor Notes. 

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Librarians have garnered widespread support for their campaign on social media and at campus actions such as this one in front of McHenry Library at UC Santa Cruz.

Librarians are determined to win a better contract

UC librarians and their union, the University Council-AFT, has three priority issues in the negotiations of their contract with university administrators: salary and economic issues, academic freedom, and temporary librarians.

At the last negotiation session in August, librarians Laurel McPhee, Dominique Turnbow and Adam Siegel argued for the union’s proposal. They pointed out that in 1977 starting librarians were paid $21,000 per year, the equivalent today of $90,000. The starting salary for an assistant librarian today, however, is only $49,000.

“$21,000 may not sound like much now, but at the time, that was more than half the entire cost of a mortgage for a two-bedroom, two-bath home in a decent neighborhood,” McPhee told administrators. She then quoted several personal stories, including this one: “I couldn’t find an apartment to rent in San Diego, despite perfect credit, because my pay as an Associate Librarian didn’t meet typical landlord requirements that a tenant’s gross monthly pay was three times the monthly rent. I have two kids ... [but] I became a boomerang child and had to move back in with my parents for two years.”

The union proposed an immediate $3,500 raise the first year, after which salaries would increase by 8 percent in the two following years. The total would range from 25 percent for assistant librarians to 22 percent for full librarians. To justify it, McPhee pointed out that in the CSU system, a senior assistant is paid 37 percent more, an associate 32 percent more, and a librarian 25 percent more.

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UCLA librarian Marty Brennan says the university's actions speak louder than its words.

Administrators said that wasn’t a good comparison, and insisted on using instead a “Comparison 8” group of campuses. After McPhee researched it, however she found that “only one university has a lower starting salary than us — SUNY Buffalo, and the cost of living there is far below what it is in California cities. Adjusting for the difference in the cost of living, Yale librarians make 30 percent more, University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana earn 64 percent more, and University of Michigan Ann Arbor librarians earn 91 percent more.”

The university has yet to present a counter-offer. Meanwhile, other economic proposals included helping the 49 librarians (out of 349 people in the unit) who are maxed out on the salary scale, or who soon will be. For them the union proposes to extend the librarian rank column by 12 salary points, providing opportunity for advancement.

The union also proposed to increase professional development funding so that it allows librarians to participate in at least two conferences per year. Currently allocations can vary from $497 to $1272, none of which pay for the actual costs.

Academic freedom for librarians became an issue when Elaine Franco at UC Davis wrote a presentation for a conference titled “Copy cataloging gets some respect from administrators.” One campus administrator, however, thought the title would offend other university administrators by implying that copy catalogers had been previously unrespected. Not only that, but Franco was told to get any future presentations okayed in advance.

“It was a jokey title,” says union negotiator Marty Brennan, “but catalogers have a longstanding complaint about lack of respect. And when Franco suggested that the call to change her presentation’s title violated her academic freedom, she was told that academic freedom wasn’t in the union contract.”

So the union decided to remedy that by including what negotiators thought would be a provision stating that librarians were specifically covered by academic freedom. To their surprise, the university responded by saying that they weren’t.

According to negotiators’ notes, administration negotiators said librarians only had academic freedom when they were teaching as an “instructor of record,” and that it was limited to faculty and students. Union negotiators rebutted the university’s denial, quoting from Regent’s Policy and the Academic Personnel Manual. The administration counter was that “academic freedom is not a good fit for your unit.”

“The university is careful at the table to say how much they respect us,” Brennan says, “but their actions speak otherwise.”
In addition, UC-AFT bargainers seek to include in the contract a provision guaranteeing that librarians own the copyright on work they produce, another proposal that the university has resisted.

The university is careful at the table to say how much they respect us, but their actions speak otherwise.

The final set of priority contract proposals involve changes to Article 18, which deals with temporary librarian appointments. Over 20 percent of the librarians at UCLA, for instance, have only temporary appointments, and in UCLA Special Collections 10 temporary archivists have been employed within the last two years — five currently.

“The work I’m doing, and the work of my temporary colleagues, fulfills permanent and ongoing needs within our department and the UCLA Library,” said UCLA temp librarian Maggie Hughes.

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The bargaining team for UC librarians has focused on salary equity, academic freedom and temporary librarians. 

“It was important for the UC team to hear firsthand from temporary archivists about the deleterious effects of exploiting the temporary provision,” she said “I felt that the audience — the room was full of supporters — really heard our message, especially as many of them are intimately familiar with this practice and would also like to see it curbed.”

More than 40 observers attended the session, and Special Collection librarians spoke to the university’s negotiators. They listed many reasons for considering the practice harmful, including its cost to librarians themselves. “Job insecurity negatively affects one’s ability to make major life decisions,” they explained. “They are more likely to move and have to start over. They will feel worried, anxious, and not in control of their futures. They have to spend leisure and vacation time identifying, applying to, and interviewing for jobs.”

Testifying at negotiating sessions is only one of several tactics the union is using to move administrators in a positive direction. By sharing on social media, in only 10 days, UC-AFT activists collected over 1,000 signatures on a petition defending the academic freedom of librarians. Half came from people in the UC system, while the other half came from librarians and academics around the world.

“We’ve had big rallies and marches, and we plan to do more,” Brennan predicts. “We coordinate with other unions on campus, and we’ve gotten very active on social media.” McPhee notes that “moments of solidarity” are being organized on campuses, where librarians wear union t-shirts and speak out at lunchtime in front of their libraries.

— By David Bacon, CFT Reporter

> Support our UC colleagues! Sign the petition in support of UC librarians and academic freedom.

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Stephanie Rosenblatt, president of the Cerritos College Faculty Federation, says the new funding formula allows administrators to focus on dollars rather than quality.

New funding formula rewards student performance at the risk of turning colleges into diploma mills

Stephanie Rosenblatt, president of Cerritos College Faculty Federation, and a librarian at the college, has seen what happened to counselors in her district when performance metrics were imposed on them.

Speaking about the school administration officials, Rosenblatt said, “They want to game the system – they don’t care if it’s quality counseling – they just want a bunch of education plans. The education plan is supposed to be the artifact of an important conversation, but they just want to check off these productivity measures,” she said. “Our counselors have master’s degrees and some have PhDs – they went to school for student contact, not to be chained to their desk all day, writing education plans.”

With Gov. Jerry Brown signing into law a new formula for community college funding – which awards districts money based on students earning degrees and certificates in a certain amount of time – Rosenblatt worries that administrators will pressure faculty members to move students along quickly in pursuit of funding rather than in service of student learning.

That’s why CFT strongly opposed the student performance metrics in this funding bill. Historically, districts have been funded based solely on Full-Time Student-Equivalents or FTES, but the new funding formula combines FTES, student financial need, and student performance indicators.

“It turns us into diploma mills,” said Community College Council President Jim Mahler. “Administrators are going to figure out ways to game the system and they’re going to follow the money.”

Rosenblatt says she sees administrators at her school doing that already. For example, now her school has an agreement with Cal State Long Beach that if former students from Cerritos transfer there and complete the degree they started at the community college, Cerritos can claim the degree.

“What the hell is that?” Rosenblatt asked. “I’m not sure what the productivity measures are, but we do know we have a college president who is concerned with dollars over quality. And you can quote me on that.”

The Legislature allocated more than $430 million to implement the new formula. Coast Community College has gotten about $16 million of that, says Rob Schneiderman, the president of the Coast Federation of Educators.

It turns us into diploma mills. Administrators are going to figure out ways to game the system and they’re going to follow the money.

That’s great for now, he says, but no one knows where the money will go or what the productivity measures will look like and how they will affect students.

“We have a lot of students with Pell grants and fee waivers and our school has students with associates’ degrees eligible for transfer,” he said. “That’s a big driver of this funding bill, and it’s working for us now, but there’s concern that there’s going to be a race to the bottom if other districts see us making a lot of money, and they lower the bar, and then we lower the bar further.”

Coast College does a good job of retaining its students, Schneiderman says, and that’s part of the reason why the college received a sizeable chunk of money. He’s glad the school has gotten recognition for that, but like Rosenblatt, he’s concerned that students will be pushed into classes they’re not ready for, setting them up to do badly and drop out.

“I’m against high-stakes testing, but eliminating placement testing completely is crazy,” he said. “If they’ve only taken pre-algebra in high school, it’s absurd to think they’ll survive in college algebra.”

Low-income students will benefit with the new funding formula, Schneiderman says. But he’s concerned that colleges will focus on them to the exclusion of others.

“When I look at the metrics, it looks like schools are going to go to low-income high schools and target students who have passed an AP class or two – they could get free tuition and books,” he said. “That’s great for those students, but hopefully the pendulum doesn’t swing too far so all of a sudden a student with a Pell grant who passed high school with a high GPA is worth a fortune. If we only focus on them, it’s fantastic for them, but bad for other students.”

The president of AFT Local 2121, the faculty union at City College of San Francisco, Jenny Worley, says her concern is that the funding focuses on students right out of high school and neglects those with other needs. She says faculty members are trying to be optimistic.

“It’s going to push people to graduate, which is good,” she said, “But it’s pushing for everyone to become more like a typical junior college, and focusing less on things like adult education. It’s going to put a lot of pressure on faculty in the math and English departments to pass people on.”

To pass on students who don’t have the skills they need in these subjects is a huge disservice, Rosenblatt says, to teachers as well as students.

Mahler says the CFT will develop legislation in the upcoming session that will remove the student performance metrics. Rosenblatt would love to see that happen.

“I’m worried that the same way they are trying to de-professionalize counselors with productivity measures, will happen with all faculty,” she said.

Other state budget news for the community colleges:

  • The budget directs $50 million to new full-time positions, and another $50 million in one-time funding for adjunct office hours.
  • Gov. Brown’s idea for a fully online community college was approved and is scheduled to start offering courses next fall. Because the community colleges already offer online courses, CFT strongly opposed this idea as redundant and expensive. Rather than spend money on things proven to help students, the state will spend a projected $240 million over its first seven years on the new online college.

— By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter

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Groundskeepers in the San Diego Community College District are well versed in the safety and reporting procedures required for chemical application.

Groundskeeper talks about applying chemicals in light of landmark ruling against Monsanto – won by a classified employee

The Environmental Protection Agency has said the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup and other weed killers is safe for humans when used according to directions. The World Health Organization, however, classifies glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen” and California lists it as a chemical known to cause cancer.

In August, a San Francisco court ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million to a Bay Area school groundskeeper who used the weed killer regularly. Jurors determined that Roundup caused or contributed to DeWayne Johnson developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and that Monsanto failed to warn him of health hazards due to exposure. The ruling found the company “acted with malice or oppression” and included $250 million in punitive damages.

The eye-popping award has brought attention to the more than 5,000 similar lawsuits against Monsanto, which German pharmaceutical giant Bayer recently bought. The trial shook the manufacturer’s credibility.

“All these years they said Roundup was non-carcinogenic,” said Gerry Vanderpot, an irrigation technician with the San Diego Community College District. “This ruling makes you re-think that.”

Monsanto developed and introduced Roundup to the market in 1974, after DDT was banned because of its harmful effects on the environment. Emails released during the case showed how far Monsanto has gone to shape public opinion.

The non-profit investigative news organization Fair Warning reported about a science-for-hire firm that produced a study, paid for by Monsanto and other glyphosate producers. The study found no risk from glyphosate residues on food crops, and “no solid evidence” that exposure at “environmentally realistic” levels could cause birth defects or developmental problems for children.

All these years they said Roundup was non-carcinogenic. This ruling makes you re-think that.

Johnson, a father of three, started spraying Roundup several hours a day to control weeds in 2012. Three years later he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. On the witness stand, he testified to the pain and suffering he experienced while showing the skin lesions that appeared all over his body. According to his doctors, Johnson may have only months to live. His wife testified that she had to work two jobs to help pay for his medical bills.

Vanderpot has worked for the San Diego district for 18 years. He has been at Mesa College, the largest of the district’s three campuses in terms of enrolment and acreage, for the past year. His team includes five gardeners and a crew leader. They regularly use Roundup and other herbicides, but he has never developed medical problems, and always knew he was operating within established procedures.

Staff undergo yearly training in the proper use of hazardous materials and protective equipment, including boots, gloves, long-sleeved shirts and safety glasses. Hazardous materials are labeled according to their level of risk, from “Caution” up to “Warning” and “Danger.”

Vanderpot said crews also use non-chemical approaches, such as pulling weeds by hand, but herbicides are more cost-effective. “We use herbicides so we can control the acreage we have with the number of staff we have.”

Roundup, he explained, is a post-emergent herbicide to knock out unwanted growth. Another brand, Dimension, is a pre-emergent chemical to prevent weeds from growing on playing fields and large expanses of grass. In some cases, both are used. San Diego staff, he added, use hand-held sprayers, not the industrial-sized tank that Johnson reportedly used.

“I read that he (Johnson) had been covered from head to toe,” he said. “We apply Roundup in small containers – one or two ounces mixed in about two gallons of water.”

Vanderpot said all San Diego employees must also fill out Material Safety Data Sheets whenever they use any chemical, even bleach or fertilizer. Employees log how much of every chemical they used and how they applied it.

About pesticide use reporting on campus

In 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed CFT-supported Senate Bill 1405, requiring safe use and accurate tracking of pesticides on school campuses. Industry lobbyists had previously blocked two similar pieces of legislation.

With pesticides being common at urban and rural schools, SB 1405 aimed to prevent a tragedy. The National Academy of Sciences reports that most high-level pesticide exposures are to children, and that children are affected more than adults.

Under the law, schools and colleges are required designate someone to document all pesticide use, develop a long-term plan to prevent pests with minimal hazard to humans, post information on the school website, and provide annual training for everyone who handles pesticides. SB 1405 went into effect July of 2016.

— By Steve Weingarten, CFT Reporter

Read about the Bay Area groundskeeper who won the landmark ruling against Monsanto.