UTLA rally draws thousands in call for 'the schools LA students deserve'

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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.”

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Classified work celebrated at annual conference

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Classified and paraprofessionals at the annual conference demonstrated how many hats they wear at work in a moving presentation. See more images on the CFT facebook page. See Friday's pictures and Saturday's pictures.

Californians vote to protect public education


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.mendo

A giant victory for Mendocino AFT members in County Superintendent race

Torlakson victory

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.OC

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.Election

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%.rsz santa cruz

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.

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


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.