Conference promotes leadership and activism in difficult times


Hashtags: #DumpDeVos, #AFTallin

At the Leadership Conference, California’s top legislative leaders confirmed their stance defending our state’s progressive values and union members learned CFT’s legislative and political priorities for the coming year — all this amidst the national backdrop of a massive movement to reject the most unqualified nominee ever for U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.DF6A1609

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) kicked off the event, saying, “We’re working hard to represent the progressive values we have always represented. We’re not in Kansas, right? We’re California, we’re taking care of our kids and our progressive values. We’re defending our state.”

Rendon said the state has retained the Covington law firm where the former U.S. Attorney General practices law. “Eric Holder is working with us to make sure we know what we can do with the federal government and how we can fight back, and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is working to make sure services for families remain first-rate.”

CFT members heard from Rendon and Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) who reiterated the Speaker’s commitment and hit on topics ranging from the DeVos nomination, saying, “We now have people who are not going to be champions for public education,” to President Trump’s immigration ban.

“Trump signed an executive order that probably has a more profound effect on us here in California. What it does is systematically allow for the deportation of anyone who has been charged with a crime, or even a chargeable offense, without the due process right to a hearing.”

To defend immigrant rights, Monning said, “The Senate passed a bill to provide representation to undocumented immigrants.”

(See photos on Facebook)

Throughout the two-day politics and policy summit, CFT members had the opportunity to attend skill-building workshops such as organizing and in another track, learn about key policy issues facing the Federation.

On Wednesday night, members were able to talk one-on-one with their elected representatives at a union-sponsored reception in the State Capitol. (See photos on Facebook)

On Thursday morning, attendees fanned out across the Capitol in dozens of meetings with legislators and their aides to promote the legislative agenda CFT will be putting forward this year. CFT is currently working to place several union-sponsored bills in the Legislature.

An AFT representative encouraged attendees to visit a new AFT website to find talking points on the Affordable Healthcare Act and Trump nominees, as well as draft resolutions for locally elected boards, petitions and postcards. The hashtag for social media is #AFTallin.

Were You a Racist?

— By Paul Karrer, a retired member of the North Monterey County Federation of Teachers who taught for 37 years. Find him online here.

On the Friday before Martin Luther King Junior day, I asked my fifth-graders if they knew why we had the day off. One suggested, “To celebrated MLK’s birthday.”

To be honest, for a ten-year-old that wasn’t bad.

“No,” another piped in, “It’s cuz he fought for blacks’ rights.”

“Good and you’re 100 percent correct.” I replied. Let’s call the child who piped up with that answer Isaiah. He’s perceptive and often sees the big picture.

I thought it would be appropriate to show a short clip on both Martin Luther King, Jr.’s accomplishments, and his struggles. Not many of the kids knew he had been stabbed or that his house had been bombed. 

The same film showed the iconic footage of police dogs being set upon blacks and of high-pressure water cannons hosing protesters. Rosa Parks was mentioned and the famous bus boycott. My kids made shocked noises now and then. I also viewed a short clip about his assassination. 

I mentioned that when I was a kid my mom took me from Connecticut to Florida on a train and that once we hit the South, bathrooms clearly stated WHITE or COLORED. I honestly told them I was way too young to remember it.

Isaiah raised his hand, “Were you a racist?”

There was no malice, no wise guy intent in his question. Every child watched me with their predominantly Latino/Latina eyes. Isaiah is a brilliant, great kid. A high-level thinker. He just put the facts together and made a logical conclusion. Our teacher is Anglo. Anglos were racist. He lived then, therefore he must have been a racist.

The quick response out of my mouth was, “No, of course not.” And then I thought, This child has just dared to ask you a question from his heart. A question, if a teacher had a thin skin, might have gone the wrong way.

“Isaiah, you make me happy. You always ask good questions. You just made me re-think my answer. “Yes, Isaiah. I’m sorry to say when I think about it, my family and I were ignorant and racist sometimes. I think I’m not any more.”

One of my girls said, “That’s why you teach us huh?”

“Yes, I’d like to think so.”

Another one piped in, “And your wife is Korean.”

Wow, they’re defending ME! Man, I love these kids.

“You know what? We are having recess a couple of minutes early.”

A shout of communal joy rang out and I dismissed them. I thought my moral lesson for the day had been learned, but I was wrong. One girl hung back, waiting until all the kids left.

“Mr. Karrer, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot right?”


“You ever been shot?”

Her eyes plumbed my depths, “No.”

“My dad was shot. He’s in prison now. Elissa’s dad was shot too. He’s dead you know.”

“Yes, I knew about her dad.”

She smiled, “See you after recess.” Then put her books in her backpack and left me alone in the room with much to ponder.

Speier praises CCSF, condemns ACCJC

San Francisco—One thing for certain about Congresswoman Jackie Speier: she is consistent. On November 28 at a City College of San Francisco (CCSF) forum that she organized and hosted, the Bay Area Congresswoman sang the praises of the largest community college in California. She also made clear that no matter what the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) decides in its January meeting about CCSF, she will do everything in her power to keep the school open and serving its tens of thousands of students. 

Speier et al
From right, state senator-elect Scott Weiner, Assemblymember Phil Ting, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, and Speier staff Bryan Perkins, at the City College of San Francisco forum called by the Congresswoman on November 28. Fred Glass photo

To bolster that message, she brought along several other elected officials (Assemblymember Phil Ting, State Senator-elect Scott Weiner, and president of the CCSF Board of Trustees Rafael Mandelman), and a group of City College faculty and students led by AFT 2121 president Tim Killikelly, to present the case. College of San Mateo president Mike Claire rounded out the presenters.

The presentation took place before a packed audience of several hundred at the Diego Rivera Theater. The forum’s structure, including statements of support by the elected officials, and testimony from the classrooms of several revered City College occupational programs detailing their importance to San Francisco businesses, looked like a streamlined echo of a forum held during the height of the school’s accreditation crisis a couple years ago. That hearing was likewise steered by Speier, and she also signed on to a letter sent by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi last September asking the US Secretary of Education to “delist” the ACCJC as an accreditor.

Speier called ACCJC’s actions in attempting to shut down the college “reprehensible, and in no way supported by the facts.” She cited the finding of a joint Legislative Audit Committee that the commission had treated CCSF in a fashion inconsistent with its treatment of other colleges, and reminded the audience that the decision had been found illegal by a San Francisco Superior Court judge.

Ting emphasized the long list of local, state, and federal government officials, agencies and taskforces that had condemned the commission. He stated his intent to keep all these institutions aligned not only to the purpose of keeping the college open, but to help California transition to a new accreditor, as called for by the state Chancellor’s task force last year and supported by the state Board of Governors.

Tim Killikelly stressed that the ACCJC’s action in creating a special new “restoration status” without due process was illegal, and will not stand up in court if the Commission attempts to shutter the college again.

Following presentations by representatives of the Diagnostic Medical Imaging program, the Bridge to Biotech program, the Speech and Debate team, and the Diversity Collaborative-Latin American Studies Department, Speier led a discussion with the crowd.

The 2016 Election: How did we do?

Throughout the Golden State, for the past several weeks, CFT members, leaders, and staff plunged into the election campaign with the intensity that comes from knowing first hand what was at stake.

“Anyone working in public education during the Great Recession a few years ago remembers what that was like for our students, our schools, and our colleagues,” said CFT president Joshua Pechthalt. “No one wanted to find ourselves in that situation or anything remotely like it again.” This was the reason why CFT’s first priority was Prop 55, and we have reason to celebrate that victory today.JeffEl11716a

Prop 55 gives public education the breathing space to continue to recover from years of cuts and underfunding, and with the 4 - 9 billion dollars in revenues per year coming from the richest Californians, it also helps address the core social problem of economic inequality.

At the same time, the national political scene has just experienced a tectonic shift. Pechthalt, in a message to members, said, “Rough night! I still can’t wrap my head around the notion that Donald Trump was elected President.”

We took heart from the election of Kamala Harris as the first African American woman Senator from California. As a daughter of immigrants, her election represents a triumph of our country’s best values in an election clouded by misogyny, xenophobia and racism.

Within the confines of California
If you look strictly within the confines of California, it was a pretty good night for CFT, public education, and the issues that our members care about. Six of nine ballot measures we endorsed passed, including Prop 58, which repealed the xenophobic Prop 227 that banned bilingual education.

In California state Senate races, ten of CFT’s endorsed candidates won, four lost, and one race remains too close to call. In Assembly races, 46 of 56 candidates endorsed by CFT won. And in California’s Congressional delegation, 29 of 36 CFT-endorsed candidates won.

[See all results on the Secretary of State’s website.]

Especially important to note is that a number of state legislative races, and some school board races as well, were overwhelmed with massive political contributions from the California Charter Schools Association, which has become a funnel for the efforts of “education reform” billionaires to expand charter schools and repel efforts to make charters operate more transparently and fairly. More than $24 million was spent by the CCSA in this election cycle. If it is true that “they have the money, but we have the people,” that notion will be put to the test in the next round of elections. A welcome exception to the losses in several of these races was the come from behind victory of Ash Kalra in Santa Clara over CCSA-backed Madison Nguyen.

Local races
Our members’ boots were on the ground in too many cities to cover them all here. Here are a few highlights.

San Francisco: In addition to electing a majority to the San Francisco Board of Education, United Educators of San Francisco, AFT Local 61, celebrated the ouster of the most anti-union board member. AFT Local 2121, representing faculty in the community college district, helped steer a parcel tax extension to victory, and ditto the progressive Prop W, which, through a modest increase in a transfer tax on ultra-luxury properties that sell for more than $5 million, will make City College of San Francisco tuition-free.

Across the bay, the Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees welcomed a new member, Karen Weinstein, courtesy of strong precinct walking and phone banking efforts by the Peralta Federation of Teachers. The Berkeley Federation of Teachers carried Measure E1 to victory, extending a parcel tax that brings in nearly a quarter of the Berkeley Unified School District’s budget.

A few miles south of San Francisco, the Jefferson Elementary Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 3267—with the support of Jefferson High School Federation, AFT Local 1481—pushed a parcel tax across the finish line in Daly City, marking the first time the area’s working class voters agreed to dig into their properties to augment school funding, with a spectacular 75% “yes” vote.

The two unions, with strong support from the San Mateo Labor Council, also worked on winning High School Board and City Council races. Says Local 3267 president Melinda Dart, “This, along with passing Prop 55, shows that people in Daly City really support their schools. The candidates we elected to both the High School board and City Council are also solid supporters.” One new council member attended Melinda’s elementary school, and the other has four kids in the district. The two locals also defeated a couple of charter school proponents.

The San Jose Evergreen Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 6147, supported three incumbent trustees, and all were returned to office.  The local also worked to pass a college bond measure, which passed with 66% of the vote (it needed 55%).

In San Diego, AFT Local 1931, representing faculty at the SDCCD, ran the largest Prop 55 phone bank operation in the city, with members and student interns calling thousands of union members and other voters, contributing to a 59% margin for the ballot measure in a conservative area. The phone bank also called about the winning Measure K, which moved city elections to November when more people can vote, and got union-endorsed Mary Graham elected to the SDCCD Board of Trustees.

In all, more than thirty CFT locals hosted phone banks, contacting thousands of CFT members about Prop 55 and other local priorities.

Summing up his view of next steps in a message to members, CFT President Pechthalt said, “Our task, once we have taken a deep breath, and reassured our children and our students that as Martin Luther King said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”, is to organize and build the progressive movement. This is no less our task if Trump or Hilary Clinton were elected president. The conditions under which we operate will be very different but our job is the same. So hang in there, hug your kids, spouse, friends and dog. We will get through this. It may be rough but we are going to make it.”


Ballot Measures
CFT rec.  Outcome
53 N N
54 N Y
55 Y Y
57 Y Y
58 Y Y
59 Y Y
62 Y N
63 Y Y
66 N Y

The amazing 2016 election work of CFT members, officers and staff

Elizabeth mailer Page 1  Marisa mailer resize Paula mailer Page 1
Prop 55 mailer

Prop 55 mailer

We are a voice for our
students mailer

The election is just a couple days away, and we want to share with you the outstanding work that CFT members, leaders, and staff have done to ensure victory for Prop 55, Kamala Harris, Hillary Clinton, and dozens of CFT’s state and local priorities.

Our top priority this year has been to pass Prop 55, an extension of 2012's Prop 30, which maintains a tax on the wealthiest Californians to provide as much as $8 billion a year in revenue to fund public education and healthcare.

In the last week of September and early October, more than twenty CFT locals held "walk-ins," staffed literature tables, leafleted, created human billboards along busy streets, and held press conferences under the auspices of the national Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) to spread the word about the importance of fully funding public education by passing Prop 55.


 Watsonville members hold a Day of Action for Prop 55

More than thirty CFT locals hosted phone banks, contacting thousands of CFT members about Prop 55 and other local priorities.

2El Camino
El Camino College classified and faculty members hold phone bank at a member's home.

CFT staff and members have been working in ten Central Labor Councils, and member volunteers are participating in those and many more CLC programs across the state.

3Gemma Abels
Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers President Gemma Abels launches a canvass from South Bay Labor Council.


While California is not a battleground state in the Presidential election, CFT members pitched in nonetheless by attending the Democratic National Convention in July and by volunteering to canvass in battleground states like Nevada, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. More than fifty CFT members stepped up and traveled to key states to make sure that Hillary Clinton is the next President of the United States.

4Dart DP conventionJPG
Jefferson Elementary Federation of Teachers President Melinda Dart and Glendale Faculty Guild member Andra Hoffman at the DNC in Philadelphia.

CFT leaders and members demonstrated their support for Prop 55 by phone banking at CFT events throughout the fall, including at the September State Council meeting, the Council of Classified Employees Conference in October, and weekly in remote locations around the state via the CFT’s Strategic Campaign Initiative (SCI) program.

CFT leaders Josh Pechthalt, Jeff Freitas, and Paula Phillips call classified members about Prop 55 at the CCE Conference in October.
  •  And there's much more! A few impressive stats:
  • Members distributed thousands of Prop 55 flyers, CFT slate cards, lawn signs, stickers, and buttons at their worksites.
  • Among the many locally-hosted phone banks, Local 1521, the LA College Faculty Guild, hosted weekly phone banks, dialing over 28,000 CFT members, September through November.
  • At least 27 local school boards and boards of trustees passed resolutions in support of Prop 55.
  • CFT members overwhelming support Prop 55, with 87% of ID'd members saying Yes on 55.
  • Over 100 CFT members were trained on Prop 55 talking points and speaking techniques at CFT Speakers Bureau trainings held statewide.
  • CFT gave over $1,000,000 in contributions and in-kind services to help pass Prop 55.
  • For the general election, CFT gave $274,000 to state legislative candidates, $76,200 to local candidates, and $44,000 to local measures. For the first time, CFT used a "press one" autodial call that asked members to affirm their support for Prop 55. This call dialed to over 40,000 CFT members.
  • CFT members will receive GOTV text alerts for the first time ever.
  • In our eleven targeted state legislative races, thousands of CFT members received candidate-specific mail pieces and robocalls.
  • CFT members received four pieces of mail from AFT and 3 pieces from CFT, featuring members, about our endorsed propositions and candidates (see top of page).
  • In addition to Central Labor Council release, CFT staff are released directly to four Prop 55 campaign offices statewide.
  • The great work of CFT members has been featured in publications across the state including articles in the LA Times and an op ed in the San Diego News-Tribune.
  • Members have also been featured in videos focusing on the impact of Prop 30 and the need to pass Prop 55. 

All our hard work is paying off, but the fight isn't over! You can help us cross the finish line by volunteering at your local Central Labor Council or with your local union during GOTV weekend. The GOTV schedule for labor councils around the state can be found here. You can also contact Jessica Ulstad, CFT's Political Field Director at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information about how to get involved.

Onward to Election Day! 

Paid for by the California Federation of Teachers COPE and Prop Ballot Committee

Prop 55 campaign gathers momentum with local events

Prop 55 Uncle Sam

UCI lecturer Andrew Tonkovich showed how patriotic it is to support Prop 55.  Kneeling next to him is Garden Grove mayor and former Tonkovich student Bao Nguyen.

October 17, 2016 (Orange County)—Andrew Tonkovich was dressed up as Uncle Sam, complete with pasted-on white beard. He clutched a thick sheaf of Prop 55 flyers in his hand, just a few steps away from a table with more literature, buttons, posters, voter registration forms, and an urn of free coffee, which he explained was to “stimulate” conversation about Prop 55. As the UC Irvine students passed by on the way to and from class, Tonkovich tirelessly threw out his hooks: “Are you registered to vote? Do you know about Proposition 55? Talk to Uncle Sam, who wants you to vote for Prop 55! Would you like some free coffee?”

The students who stopped and listened to the stimulating conversation learned that if Prop 55 did not pass, schools and colleges would lose billions of dollars in funding from the state of California. The students also found that their fees at UCI would likely go up. Student fees at the University of California have held steady since 2012 when Prop 30, the temporary tax on the wealthiest Californians, was voted in by the electorate. Prop 55 would extend Prop 30 for twelve years. Although Prop 30 does not directly fund UC and CSU, by freeing up other monies in the state general fund it has kept fees from increasing in both higher education systems.

Tonkovich, a lecturer in writing and president of his UC-AFT local, was joined in his effort by the presidents of nearby Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers (Britt Dowdy), and Coast Federation of Educators (Rob Schneiderman); the mayor of Garden Grove, Bao Nguyen, a UCI alum and former student of Tonkovich; Mary Ann Gaido, candidate for mayor of Irvine; the local UC-AFT staffer, Honora Keller; and a sprinkling of community volunteers. The results after a few hours? Several students were newly registered to vote; hundreds went home with Prop 55 literature for bedtime reading; and a radio story.
Prop 55 Pic

Press conferences, rallies, and other public activities are taking place throughout the state with the help of CFT members and our coalition partners to build public awareness and pass Prop 55. Speaking:  student Emily Flores.

Press conference 

Later that afternoon at Back Bay High School in Costa Mesa, Dowdy spoke at a press conference for Prop 55. He noted that, “In the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, approximately $4.2 million of the budget is attributed to funds related to Prop 55.”

Appearing with Dowdy was Schneiderman, who said, “Without Prop 55, the Coast Community College District would lose about $20 million per year, which is 10% of our total budget.”

Also at the press conference was Coast classified president Ann Nicholson, board members from each district, teachers from Santa Ana and Tustin, a PTA leader, and CSU student Emily Flores, whose father Joel teaches at the high school and pulled the event together. The press conference netted a small story in the local newspaper, the Daily Pilot.
Prop 55 Pic 2

Phone banking for Prop 55 in Sunnyvale:  L-R Janet Werner, Raji Visvanathan, Linda Brummer.

How to get involved

As we count the days down to November 8, activism has been welling up within CFT’s locals across the state, and the accumulation of many individual efforts is having an impact. Members are staffing the phone banks, walking precincts, holding political conversations with family, friends, and neighbors, and participating in public events like those in Orange County to draw attention to Prop 55, CFT’s top priority this election.

Click here to find out how you can plug into Prop 55 activities between now and November 8.