Pasadena City College classified workers join the Federation

“We are so excited to become part of the CFT!”

This was the message from Alice Araiza, a 36-year employee of Pasadena City College, when the members of her union, the Instructional Support Services Union (ISSU), voted overwhelmingly to affiliate with the California Federation of Teachers on May 31, 2012, exactly four months after ISSU first approached the CFT.

The ISSU represents 240 classified professional staff at Pasadena City College, and 180 of them are currently members of the union. In their vote, 123 ballots were cast, with 103 members (84%) voting to affiliate with the CFT.

Since its founding in 1991, the ISSU has always been independent of larger statewide/national unions. ISSU’s leadership realized that budget cuts and changes in administration have created an increasingly difficult work environment for community college staff. They believed that affiliating with a larger union was the best way to build their union’s power to effectively respond to these changes. According to Araiza, “We were in the process of looking for a union that had strength and a stellar reputation. With the CFT we found all of this and more.”

After several discussions with the CFT and the AFT staff, ISSU’s board members voted unanimously to recommend to its membership that ISSU affiliate with the CFT. ISSU board members then embarked on an ambitious plan to reach out to their membership, having individual conversations with members leading up to the vote to explain why they believed affiliating with the CFT was important and what it would mean for each of them. Each board member identified approximately 25 ISSU members to talk to leading up to the vote. Their hard work was evident in their election victory and the vote margin. More importantly, the work they did in reaching out to their members directly has helped galvanize other members to get more involved in their union, which is especially important as they prepare for their next round of bargaining. Playing key supporting roles in the ISSU’s affiliation campaign were CFT leaders Velma Butler, President of AFT College Staff Guild and Luukia Smith, President of El Camino Classified Employees Union, as well as CFT Organizing Director Sandra Weese and Organizing Project staff. Both Butler and Smith attended membership and board meetings to give ISSU members a clear picture of the strength they could achieve by working with the CFT.

With its track record of advocacy on community college issues, its emphasis on new and internal organizing and its commitment to local autonomy and internal democracy, the CFT was the logical choice for the ISSU.

According to CFT President Joshua Pechthalt, “This victory is a product of the CFT’s Strategic Campaign Initiative and its resulting work. We have many more opportunities to extend the benefits of membership in the CFT to other independently represented units as well as many not-yet-unionized workers. We hope this will be the first of many more such victories to come.”

Araiza and her board share his enthusiasm: “We are more than excited with our new affiliation with the CFT and look forward to working with a nationally recognized and respected union.” Congratulations and welcome, ISSU members!