Tri-County Central Labor Council names Steve Hall and Debra Stakes as Labor Leaders of the Year

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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.

Thank you

Insurance commissioner Dave Jones leads Lobby Day line-up

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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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The Courage Campaign, a CFT community partner, awarded CFT President Josh Pechthalt with the United in Courage Award on April 22 in Sacramento. The United in Courage Award is given each year to a progressive leader who exemplifies courage and collaboration in the pursuit of a more fair and just society.

This year, the Courage Campaign feted Pechthalt for his influential work in bringing together a strong coalition of partners to ensure increased, yet progressively raised, state revenue for funding vital human services, including but not limited to public education in California. The Courage Campaign also pointed to Pechthalt’s fight for school-based healthcare services and expanded library hours so that children in California are healthy, safe and able to achieve their goals.

Josh Pechthalt comments at Courage Award dinner
April 22, 2014
Citizen Hotel, Sacramento

Thank you so much for this award. It means a lot to me to be recognized by an organization and individuals whom I respect and have played such an important role in the progressive community, fighting for economic and social justice.

While I am honored to receive this award, I believe it truly recognizes the work we all played in the fight for the Millionaires Tax and the effort to convince Governor Brown that a merged measure was in the best interest of all Californians. It is my firm conviction that without our work to support the Millionaires Tax, Proposition 30 would not have been as strong a measure and that it would not have been successful.

The work on the Millionaires Tax and Prop 30. was a collective effort. On the CFT side, Jeff Freitas our Secretary Treasurer, our leadership, staff and our members were very clear that we had to make a fight for more funding and that wealthy Californians had to pay more.

The involvement and leadership of our community partners was also key to this victory. Early on, the CFT understood that this could not be a union only effort. Maybe that realization was borne out of the knowledge that the CFT does have the resources of some other unions and that if we are to move a progressive agenda in California it must be done in coalition with labor and community.

That coalition began to emerge in the spring of 2011 on the heels of a CFT funded poll to gauge the public’s support for raising taxes an additional 1% on the top 1% of income earners. That polling indicated there was overwhelming public support for raising taxes on the rich and that helped solidify the work to create a progressive tax measure.

In particular, I want to acknowledge the work of Rick Jacobs and the Courage Campaign and Anthony Thigpenn and California Calls. Rick and Anthony and then Amy Schur from ACCE were instrumental in helping navigate the difficult terrain of the Millionaires Tax and then making sure that the Reclaim California’s Future coalition, which we had created, continued to be an official part of the Prop. 30 campaign.

The results, as we all know, have been dramatic. After years of devastating budget cuts, California has begun to restore funding for education and public services and the dire predication coming from the opponents of Prop. 30 that its adoption would lead to an exodus of rich people did not pan out. California is a great place to live and asking the wealthiest Californians to pay a bit more in taxes has made the state better for all.

Of course much more needs to be done and many of us in this room are currently working on an effort to amend Proposition 13 and put it before the voters in 2016. That will be a very difficult struggle, but if we are serious about reforming and improving public education, rebuilding our roads, bridges and highways, improving vital services for our neediest residents, then we have to take on Prop. 13.

I also want to raise an issue that continues to threaten the likelihood of success on reforming Prop 13 and moving a progressive agenda in California and nationally.

In this period of declining union membership, the last sector of the economy that is still well organized and capable of playing a decisive role in elections are the public sector unions and education unions in particular. Unfortunately the current attack on teacher rights has used the language of the civil rights movement and the real problems of economic disparity to argue that the answer to the problems of public education are best solved by pushing market reforms. If these market reforms are successful, they will create greater disparity among our students and weaken the power of education unions to move a progressive agenda.

We see this in the Vergara lawsuit, creating a fast track for students willing to pay higher fees in community colleges, endless testing, promoting merit pay, eliminating seniority and due process, promoting non-union charter schools. All these reforms have at their core the notion that the competition of the market place will improve the performance of teachers and students.

The history of working people and communities of color tell us a very different story, however. Without restraints, the market place rewards a few and creates greater inequality and disparity.

Unfortunately we see a growing number of friends and organizations not only buying in to the ideas promoted by the market reformers but also influenced by the dollars the billionaires and corporations can offer.

Those of us involved in education know what needs to be done. It’s not a mystery. We spend out lives in the classroom; we see what works and we spend lots of time reading, discussing and thinking about how to make our teaching more effective.

But when social services are cut, unemployment and underemployment is on the rise, the single minded focus on the classroom and the school site must be viewed as a massive diversion from taking on the issues of poverty and wealth-the real issues that shape academic success.

Unfortunately, we in the education union world have not done a very good job of engaging the public on these issues and explaining patiently what works and what doesn’t and why worker rights are not counter posed to the rights of students.

In the CFT we are working on a long-term campaign for quality public education that sees working with our members, our parents, students and community partners in a bottom up dialogue about what is needed in our schools and classrooms and how we can together build a vision for quality public education and then fight for it.

As part of that effort the CFT has launched a legislative effort AB 1955, called Healthy Kids, Healthy Minds to put a full-time nurse and mental health professional in every school and to make sure school libraries are open before and after school.

We believe this is the kind of effort that has at its core the notion that our students, our children, are not simply widgets to be measured but are human beings to be nurtured and that begins in our schools.

We hope we can count on you for your support and thank you again Courage Campaign.

 

Leadership Conference inspires attendees

The annual CFT Leadership Conference held February 6-7 was jam-packed with learning opportunities for union leaders and staffers. In one panel discussion, domestic workers and their dedication to winning a Bill of Rights in the California Legislature last year inspired attendees.

See more pictures from the conference in this facebook photo album.

The importance of adult education and including adult educators in the consultation process

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Testimony of CFT Secretary Treasurer Jeff Freitas before the Senate Education and Assembly Higher Education Committees

January 29, 2014

Thank you Senator Liu, Assemblymember Williams and the committee members.

My name is Jeff Freitas and I am the Secretary Treasurer of the California Federation
of Teachers.

CFT represents early childhood educators, K-12 teachers, classified employees,
community college faculty, UC lecturers and librarians, and adult educators in the K-12
and community college worlds.

I want to thank Senator Liu specifically for providing me the opportunity to present on
behalf of the more than 100,000 school employees that we represent, and to thank both
chairs for having a joint hearing specifically on adult education.

Since the time that the adult education categoricals were flexed for K-12 school
districts, adult education programs across the state have been decimated in many
communities. With the re-visioning of community college missions (as can be seen by
the ever heavy hand of the ACCJC in San Francisco) adult education opportunities are
narrowed again but from a different system.

We absolutely disagree with the LAO that we should narrow the mission or goals of
Adult Education. Saying it is too much for the state is just more austerity rhetoric and
does not meet the needs of all community members — all taxpayers.

From this budget tightening in the past, Gov. Brown, from my analysis, has created a
possible solution to provide Adult Education its own system so it is not pitted against
the goals of either K-12 schools or community colleges. Hence, AB86 was passed and
signed into law. AB86 called for a state cabinet with appointments by the State
Superintendent of Public Schools and Chancellor of the Community Colleges, state
working group, and regional consortia.

Interesting enough, the governor also pushed forward an idea of broad stakeholder
engagement in creating plans and goals for the K-12 system through the Local Control
Funding Formula and the Local Control Accountability Plan.

I link these two system changes to funding and functioning because they should spell
out the interest of the governor and intent of AB86 to include all stakeholders.
The LCAP provides a model that should be applied immediately to the planning
process for the future of Adult Education. Regional consortia should consult with all
stakeholders before creation of regional plans not after, and important stakeholders
must be included in the AB86 leadership bodies not just the regional consortia.

The intent, we believe, has not been put into practice. Teachers, faculty, school
employees actually working with the adults being educated have been excluded from
these planning and working groups. This is a serious flaw.

I received an email from a leader that teaches Adult Education at a community college
where the faculty senate appointed her and five others to be part of the consortium,
however the administrators excluded half the group and only kept the department chairs
for the early meetings. Other places teachers and faculty are only brought in after
decisions have been made or at the point when non-district organizations are included.
This is a blatant exclusion of stakeholders. And these are just a few of many examples.

Seeing that I am the first person to speak at this hearing on behalf of the actual adult
educators, I would like to share three concerns that you should seriously consider.

1. The inclusion of actual teachers and bargaining unit representatives at every
level of the consultation process.
2. The prevention of paring down or eliminating broad education opportunities
for all segments of these communities, specifically Older Adult and non-credit
adult education classes. We can and must do more not less for our
communities.
3. And finally, that public dollars must be used for public education and
controlled by public agencies.

Voices have been excluded from the process and we fear that further damage will occur
to these communities because of the lack of these voices, our voices. And we hope you
will work to protect the opportunities that are provided by this endangered education
system.

Thank you for this opportunity.

Jeffery M. Freitas
CFT Secretary Treasurer

Additional Resources:

VIDEO: CFT testifies on adult education (go to 02:03:25)

Read about AB86 in California Teacher

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The officers and the staff of the California Federation of Teachers wish you a restful holiday season that brings joy with loved ones and a new year filled with the possibility of reclaiming the promise of public education.

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