Members of the ABC Federation of Teachers came out in force to attend the bestowal of the Ben Rust Award, the CFT's highest honor, on former CFT Senior VP Laura Rico (center, front row, holding award). Rico, who was also a vice president of the national AFT and AFL-CIO, closed her acceptance speech with a favorite Mexican saying, "They buried us but they didn't know that we were seeds."
Manhattan Beach—"Inspiring and well organized," was how AFT 2121 president Tim Killikelly described the 73rd annual California Federation of Teachers’ convention, held over the weekend of March 20-22 in Manhattan Beach.
Five hundred convention delegates—K-12 teachers, early childhood educators, community college instructors, classified employees, and UC librarians and lecturers—from all corners of California got the opportunity to discuss and debate the issues facing public education and our communities, and to decide union policy for the coming year. They attended workshops, heard from elected officials and education experts, and voted for the leadership that will steer CFT’s efforts for the next two years.
A strong list of distinguished speakers provided information and entertainment.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson noted the importance of renewing Prop 30 "or something just like it" so that we can continue to restore programs cut during the Great Recession. He criticized those who “unfairly blame teachers for the problems in public education."
State Controller Betty Yee thanked CFT for putting Prop 30 before the voters. She credited the measure with California's current budgetary stability, and shared her own story to emphasize its importance, since as an immigrant she did not speak English when she arrived in school and the San Francisco schools became her lifeline. She noted that economic opportunity for all doesn't happen without school, the great equalizer, and without Prop 30, it was much harder for schools to play that critical role.
Another convention highlight was the appearance of former Oakland high school teacher and San Francisco State professor Jeff Duncan-Andrade, who shaped his presentation around rapper Tupac Shakur's poem, "The Rose That Grew From Concrete." In a wide ranging, challenging and sharp edged talk, he spoke to the need to meet low income students where they are. He spoke of the varieties of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) faced by low income students, and showed the data that found that one in three had experienced some form of trauma producing PTSD and compared it with that of combat veterans, which the Pentagon pegs at one in six.
The crowd appreciated his critique of the corporate takeover effort, focusing on Pearson, the giant publishing company. Duncan-Andrade got everyone to agree to shout out "Pearson!" whenever something in the presentation went wrong, which people continued to do during the convention long after Duncan-Andrade had left.
The convention heard from Cruz Batista Salvador, one of several family members of forty three Mexican students “disappeared” last year. He described the struggle to find out what happened to these students in the context of draconian education reforms. The students had been protesting the reforms.
Carl Williams, Southern California vice president of the Classified Employee Council, received several standing ovations during his presentation on the often overlooked role of classified employees in providing quality public education. His talk concluded with a list of jobs performed by classified employees, as the stage in front of him filled with delegates who do that work, each wearing a hat to symbolize “we wear many hats.”
State of the Union
In a detailed, wide ranging and passionate State of the Union address, CFT president Joshua Pechthalt reviewed the accomplishments of the past two years and laid out his vision for the coming period. He highlighted the struggle for fair community college accreditation, the court fight against the deceptive, corporate-driven Vergara lawsuit, and many local struggles. But he reserved the bulk of his speech to analyzing the economic crisis and the need for a comprehensive solution to society's problems, widening the picture to understand that the only way to allow schools to successfully grapple with the problems that walk in their doors with their students is to fix the problems at their root. He pointed to Proposition 30’s successes, but warned that the progressive tax measure only restores part of the funding lost during the Great Recession, and that California still has a long way to go before reaching the national average in per-pupil spending.
Officer and Council Elections
The delegates expressed their approval of the current direction of CFT by reelecting statewide officers Joshua Pechthalt (President) and Jeff Freitas (Secretary Treasurer), along with twenty three of the current twenty four vice presidents. Freitas was reelected by acclamation; Pechthalt, in a contested election, won 93% of the vote.
The constituency council elections featured contests for president in the EC/K-12 Council (Rico Tamayo, of the El Rancho Federation, prevailed over Francisco Rodriguez from the Pajaro Valley Federation, and succeeded Gary Ravani, who stepped down after two terms) and the Classified Council, where incumbent Paula Phillips, Berkeley Council of Classified Employees, turned back the challenge of Velma Butler, Los Angeles College Staff Guild. In the Community College Council, eight part timers vied for four slots, and the winners were incumbents John Govsky, Linda Sneed, Amy Roberts, and Linda Chan.
CFT recognized retired Assemblymember Paul Fong for his years of service on behalf of public education, and former San Francisco Community College Federation of Teachers president Alisa Messer with the “Women in Education Award” for her steel under fire, leading AFT 2121 through years of attack by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.
Former CFT Senior Vice President Laura Rico accepted the CFT's highest honor, the Ben Rust Award, after a storied career in which she served for many years in the ABC School District as an early childhood educator, local president, CFT senior Vice President, AFT vice president, and AFL-CIO vice president. She led the last K-12 strike in the CFT, in 1993, which after 8 days taught the district that it is better to collaborate with the union than run an authoritarian top down district. She credited her colleagues, the members of the ABCFT, numerous others, and her mother, who gave her the example and courage to stand up for what she believed in. She closed with a Mexican saying, "They buried us, but they didn't know we were seeds."
First time CFT convention delegate Liza Mardoyan, a school nurse from Newport-Mesa, said, "I was pleasantly surprised; the convention was more invigorating than I expected. I really liked the fact that there was a lot of talk about political activism. It gave me a roadmap of where we are, and where we stand as locals, and where do we go from here. It clarified how our small local efforts are connected to the big picture of affecting change through legislation. I also regret there wasn't twenty of me to go to all the workshops."
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February 26, 2015—Today thousands of educators from across Los Angeles jammed Grand Park today in a rally for "the Schools LA Students Deserve." They arrived by rail, bus, car and on foot—wearing UTLA red to send a loud message to LAUSD that Los Angeles teachers will not stop fighting for smaller class sizes, fully staffed schools, clean and safe schools, and fair compensation. UTLA was joined in the rally by students, parents and community groups and supported by its affiliates CFT, CTA, AFT and NEA.
Last week, UTLA declared an impasse in negotiations with the District after LAUSD failed to bring meaningful proposals to the table on the key demands for the Schools LA Students Deserve. UTLA says it will continue to organize and hold actions until the Superintendent starts to listen.
UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said, “UTLA does not want to strike, but no one should doubt our resolve to do so if necessary. This fight is too important for the 640,000 students in LAUSD. To accept what the District has offered to date simply would not be fair to these students, their parents and to the educators, who have not even had a cost of living adjustment in eight years. LAUSD should and must do better.”
State superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson won reelection with the help of friends like (from left) Venetreas Caniness, Jay Adriano, and Darren Reynolds, students from the Los Angeles Community College District.
CFT member action keys local election victories
On an election day when much of the country swung to the right, California solidified its standing as the progressive bulwark of the nation. Every single statewide office went to the CFT-endorsed candidate. And the main projectile launched by anti-union forces at public education—the billionaire-backed Marshall Tuck campaign for state superintendent of public instruction—went down to defeat.
From the state to the local level, voters reaffirmed public education and turned their back on corporate reforms and candidates who supported them.
Much of the real action unfolded, as usual, below the radar at the local level. The hard work of CFT members helped enormously in victories in school and college board races, local tax campaigns, and in county office contests, state legislative efforts, and Congressional fights.
A giant victory for Mendocino AFT members in County Superintendent race
You could practically hear the collective sigh of relief arising from CFT members across the state as it became clear that the teacher and straight-talking Torlakson beat the Wall Street banker and anti-union Tuck. “We can now expect continued attention paid by the Superintendent’s office to the real issues facing public education, rather than wasting time fighting distracting and destructive ideological battles,” said CFT president Joshua Pechthalt.
One outstanding contribution to Torlakson’s campaign came from AFT Locals 1521 and 1521A, in the Los Angeles Community College District, who ran joint statewide phone banks for him and for LA County Supervisor candidate Sheila Kuehl for the past month, three nights a week. Kuehl, a former chair of the state senate education committee and forceful public education advocate, also won.
Another robust phone banking operation for Torlakson came from United Teachers Los Angeles, the largest AFT local west of New York. The local also produced results for Tony Mendoza for State Senate and Mike Gipson for Assembly, each of whom won their respective seats.
Local education solutions
The support shown for real life education solutions bubbled up from local races all across California. In Morgan Hill, south of San Jose, three out of four union-backed candidates for school board won, while in the contest for an open seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Education, the Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers dealt another resounding setback to corporate charter school forces, as Claudia Rossi defeated a pro-charter incumbent despite $200,000 in spending by the California Charter Schools Association.
Another county-level victory came in Mendocino, where the Mendocino County Federation of School Employees, AFT Local 4345, spearheaded the election of Warren Galletti in the Superintendent's race. Galletti won by a better than 2 – 1 margin.
In Santa Cruz, members of AFT Local 2030 worked hard on the races of their two school board candidates, Alisun Thompson and Jeremy Shonick, who challenged incumbents. Special ed teacher Casey Carlson, who serves as the local’s political director, and release-time organizer Mark Weller, led the effort.
High school teacher Joel Flores (right) lost a hard fought battle for Coast College Board in Orange County
Carlson reported that the union invited its endorsed candidates to talk with teachers at school site meetings. “This made a huge difference,” she said, hearing from many teachers that they became active in politics for the first time after meeting the candidates in person. Shonick, a teacher-educator at UC Santa Cruz, won his race, and came in as the top vote getter. In the days following the election, it appeared as if Thompson narrowly lost. However, it took weeks to count all the ballots, and in the end Thompson won by 82 votes, proving, as Carlson said, that "every vote counts!"
In nearby Salinas, the electorate followed the advice of the Salinas Valley Federation of Teachers and passed a high school bond measure. In San Luis Obispo County, the hard work of the Paso Robles Public Educators joint CFT-CTA local and the two Cuesta College AFT locals, classified and certificated, paid off with passage of a college bond and a first place finish for the endorsed candidate to the school board. The Jefferson High School and Elementary AFT locals worked with the San Mateo Community College Federation of Teachers to pass high school and college bond measures and elect two to the Jefferson High School District Board.
Further south along the coast, Wes Davis, president of the Oxnard Federation of Teachers and School Employees, lost his run for a seat on the Ventura College Board, but the local’s three candidates for Oxnard High School Board, including Bea Herrera from the Ventura College Federation, AFT Local 1828, fought their way to victory with the union’s help. They beat two incumbents, including one who ran on a platform of “enforcing Vergara.” The local also worked hard on the effort to reelect Julia Brownley to Congress; at the time of this writing, she is holding onto a narrow lead, but the race is too close to call. The Oxnard and Ventura locals also helped Jacqui Irwin win an open seat in Assembly District 44.
In Orange County, despite the best efforts of the Coast Federation of Educators and the Newport Mesa Federation of Teachers, high school teacher Joel Flores was defeated in his bid for the Coast Community College Board. Joel was supported, of course, by his local, which was also a beacon of Torlakson activism and a strong part of the successful effort to defeat the right wing Measure O, yet another attempt to turn Costa Mesa into a charter city and allow its conservative majority to gut public worker contracts and pensions.
Phonebanking for Torlakson in Los Angeles
History made in Berkeley
The two AFT locals in Berkeley Unified School District, the Berkeley Federation of Teachers and Berkeley Council of Classified Employees, worked on their school board campaign. The Berkeleyans strengthened a supportive board majority by electing three candidates.
Both unions were also involved in one of the cutting edge elections in the country: to pass a sugary beverages tax, levied on distributors, of a penny an ounce for health education. Big Soda dumped millions of dollars into this small city with a deceptive campaign to make sure it could continue to contribute to childhood obesity and diabetes, figuring that if it could stop one of the country’s most progressive electorates from enacting such a tax, it would serve as a warning elsewhere. But Measure D passed with a resounding 75% of the vote, the first tax of its kind anywhere in the country.
Across the Bay, United Educators of San Francisco helped push Prop C past the finish line, replenishing the Children’s Fund with 73.2% of voters taxing their own properties 4 cents for every $100 of assessed value for school and children’s programs. UESF elected one of its two school board candidates, while the other fell just short of defeating an incumbent endorsed by the Mayor.
The local also supported Measure J, one of a growing tide of minimum wage increases at the city level around the state; it passed by a landslide. “This is a huge victory for the families we serve; maybe parents will be able to drop a second or third job and help their kids with their homework, or be able to show up at back to school night,” said UESF president Dennis Kelly. (Similarly, the Peralta Federation of Teachers contributed to a municipal minimum wage victory in Oakland.)
UESF and AFT Local 2121, the faculty union at City College of San Francisco, also helped to produce the highest county vote percentage for Torlakson in the state, a spectacular 70%.
Soquel High English teacher Lizann Keyes holds signs for union-endorsed school board candidates in Santa Cruz. Both won.
Help them do the job they are elected to do
Assembly and Senate races, as well as Congressional contests, were a mixed bag; one piece of good news is that Richard Pan, who championed the CFT’s “Healthy Kids, Healthy Minds” legislative effort earlier this year, won reelection. Overall the Democrats lost a couple seats in each house, falling below two-thirds supermajorities. But in fact, when they had it the Democrats failed to use it; exerting this power, especially on its single most meaningful usage—passing new taxes to more adequately support education and services—will require another form of union and progressive coalition action: holding legislators’ feet to the fire to do the job they were elected to do.
View full statewide election results here.
See how CFT's endorsements did by clicking here.
Two CFT members were named Labor Leaders of the Year by the Tri-Counties Central Labor Council: Steve Hall, president of the Ventura Colleges faculty union (second from right), and Debra Stakes president of the Cuesta College faculty union. The honorees are pictured with CFT Secretary Treasurer Jeff Freitas, left, and CFT President Josh Pechthalt. Congratulations Steve and Debra!
Keynote speech by Joshua Pechthalt, CFT President
October 18, 2014
Good evening, thank you very much for asking me to speak tonight as you honor CFT leaders Debra Stakes and Steve Hall. Debra and Steve deserve to be recognized for their outstanding leadership and it is a tribute to your central labor council that you would choose to acknowledge them. However, at a time when the labor movement is struggling to retain members and globalization has had a devastating impact on the wages and benefits of American workers, everyone in this room deserves to be honored for the work you do to represent your members and working people in the Tri counties area.
One of the reasons this award for Steve and Debra is so important, I believe, is that public and private sector unions have not always collaborated. For too many years, it seemed that our interests were counterposed. But whatever the reasons were for those differences, today we understand that all of labor must stand together, whether we represent private or public sector workers.
In 2012 we saw the incredible value of that collaboration when we worked together to pass Prop 30 and defeat Prop 32. I am proud to say the Debra and Steve played key leadership roles in mobilizing their members and working with your central labor council in that effort.
Those of us in labor clearly understood the attack that Prop 32 represented because we had defeated similar measures before.
But passing Prop 30 was a huge achievement for working people in this state and its success has meant an infusion of money for public education and growing state budgets after years of draconian cuts. While we know the economy is still not where it should be, and unemployment is still too high and real wages continue to stagnate, an improved state budget and state economy has meant job growth in both the public and private sectors.
The success of Prop 30 was no accident and it speaks to the broader vision the labor movement must have if we are to move a progressive agenda. Prop 30 very pointedly asked the top income earners to pay a little bit more to help all Californians. And while there was a small regressive sales tax increase, the bulk of the money comes from taxing people who have been doing well.
Again it’s not a coincidence that the CFT, with leaders like Steve and Debra, helped shape Prop 30 through their leadership in pushing the Millionaires Tax. Because they are active in their central labor council and work with all of the sisters and brothers in the tri-counties labor movement, they understand that public education does not happen in a vacuum.
We understand that for public education and our students to be successful, the parents of our students and our community members must have good jobs with affordable health care. And our communities must have the services essential to providing a decent quality of life for all. Linking the fight for quality public education to the broader issues facing our communities is not only good politics but it helps build the kind of alliances that we saw come together to successfully pass Prop 30.
Steve clearly understood the importance of labor solidarity when, as a new member of the Oxnard Union school board; he cast the deciding vote in approving a Project Labor Agreement for school district construction projects. Debra’s role as the COPE chair and then president of her local was instrumental in passing a bond measure that supports the new construction and renovation at Cuesta College and of course the new jobs that were created.
Your recognition of these two leaders also comes at a time when public education has come under attack by forces that want to privatize our schools or at a minimum impose market driven reforms. These so-called reformers, led by people like Michelle Rhee, billionaire Eli Broad and the Walton family want to put in their pockets the hundreds of billions of public dollars that go into public education.
They are using their wealth and influence to run candidates for office, like Marshall Tuck for Superintendent of Public Instruction and they use the courts and the legislators they support to attack or eliminate seniority and dues process rights for teachers. Their slavish commitment to the dog-eat-dog dynamics of the market place rests heavily on testing and pitting students against one another and teachers against one another.
Of course that almost religious like belief in competition and the relentless quest for profits helped to hollow out much of the heavy industry of this country and reduced once proud and vibrant communities into wastelands. Just take a visit to downtown Detroit, once the most important auto production center in the world, and you will see a ghost town. So much for unfettered competition.
But our young people should not be weighed and measured, stamped with a bar code and then spit out like widgets on the conveyer belt of public education. Our students and the women and men who work with them do best when we invest in our schools and we encourage collaboration, not competition.
As educators and union leaders, Steve and Debra have been on the front line of the struggle to defend public education. Steve as a teacher and president of the Ventura College Federation of Teachers representing Ventura, Oxnard and Moorpark community colleges and now as a member of the Oxnard Union High School District and Debra as a teacher, union activist and now President of Cuesta College Federation of Teachers.
And while much of the attention on public education has been focused on elementary and high schools, this effort to promote market reforms is now being pushed in higher education. Both Debra and Steve have had to push back on efforts to narrow the mission of their colleges. They have had to push back on efforts to cut programs, eliminate vocational education and push out students who are not on working on a degree. And as we have seen in K-12, measuring student success by looking narrowly at numbers on a spreadsheet.
Their efforts to defend their colleges against these attacks, speaks to the historic vision of higher education outlined more than 50 years ago, when then Governor Edmund Brown created the California Master Plan for Higher Education. That policy created a low cost system of higher education for all who wanted to attend with our community colleges as a key part of that vision.
California’s community colleges are remarkable, offering a next step for high school students looking to move on to a four-year college. But it also provides an opportunity for working adults to acquire new skills to be more competitive in the job market, for veterans looking to return to civilian life, for people wanting to learn English or a foreign language and for seniors wanting to maintain active and healthy lives. That is the proud and historic vision of our community colleges spelled out in the Master Plan.
But that well rounded, robust vision of community colleges is under attack and it falls to leaders like Steve and Debra to help lead the effort to protect it.
Finally as we look to the election in a few weeks and hit the streets, make calls, talk to our co-workers, neighbors, family members and friends, we know how important our work together as labor is in electing good folks and trying to improve the lives of working men and women in this country.
Under the leadership of this central labor council, with people like Steve and Debra and many, many others, you have helped transform Ventura county in historic ways. What used to be bedrock of conservatism, controlled by the growers, has now emerged as a powerful voice for labor and communities of color. That is remarkable and it could not have happened with out the work of the woman and men in this room.
But whether we are as successful as we hope to be November the 4th, and frankly we are likely to take a step back at the national level, ultimately labor has never been able to rely on elected leaders or the courts to advance our movement. Whether it was the fight for the eight-hour day in the 1880s, the creation of the CIO in the 1930s or the fight for civil rights in the 1960s, our movement has been forged by building alliances and organizing our members and communities.
With leaders like Steve and Debra and those of you in this room, I know that no matter what happens in November, and let’s work hard to make sure we win every race we can, that the Tri-Counties labor movement will continue to move forward and improve the lives of the working men and women of this community.
Nearly 100 educators fan out through the State Capitol during the union's annual Lobby Days on April 29. The State Capitol provides members an excellent opportunity to meet legislators one on one. Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones talked about how the Affordable Care Act has brought health care to more Californians.
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