Tuesday, July 12, 2016—Today, as CFT members joined with coalition partners in Sacramento to rally for protection from agricultural pesticides for students, the Californians for Pesticide Reform bestowed an award on the CFT for its local and statewide efforts to make schools near fields safer.
One hundred and fifty demonstrators converged on the Sacramento offices of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) for the rally. The coalition delivered more than 27,000 petitions demanding protections for children from exposure to pesticides in schools.
“We’ve waited too long for DPR to unveil their plan to protect children in California from chemicals that are associated with some truly horrific health harming agents that are affecting our children, including cancer, asthma, ADHD, autism, and damaging effects to their neurological and reproductive systems,” said Ana Barrera, Salinas public school teacher and labor delegate for the Salinas Valley Federation of Teachers. “With the new school year fast approaching, it’s time for DPR to act.”
Joanne Waddell, President of Local 1521 speaks on Proposition 55
Supporters of Proposition 55, including educators, elected officials, parents and other community representatives, held a press conference in front of Hamilton High School in Los Angeles on August 15, kicking off the local campaign for the ballot initiative that will protect schools and students from losing up to $4 billion per year.
Speaking at the event were CFT president Joshua Pechthalt and AFT Local 1521 president Joanne Waddell, representing faculty in the Los Angeles Community College District, in addition to Steve Zimmer and Dr. George McKenna of the LAUSD Board of Education, CTA president Eric Heins, Celia Jaffe of the California State PTA, and others.
Prop 55 extends temporary Prop 30 tax on wealthy
Prop 55 would extend a temporary tax, Prop 30, passed by voters in 2012, for an additional twelve years.
Said Pechthalt, whose daughter is a high school student in LAUSD, “We are asking Californians to support extending Prop 30 by voting for Prop 55. Prop 30 has put more than 6 billion dollars in our schools a year. We estimate that Prop 55 will result in anywhere from 8 to 11 billion dollars. Those dollars are essential to making sure that California’s students are educated well. That’s not all we need to do, but it certainly is the beginning. My daughter depends on it, and her classmates depend on it.”
Prop 55 will extend the modest Prop 30 state income tax increase on the richest Californians (singles who make $250,000 and up, and joint filers who make $500,000, pay an extra 1 – 3%) in order to continue restoring the thousands of education jobs lost during the Great Recession, and support the arts, PE, and other programs students need. Said Pechthalt, “California has set about providing a different pathway for all the United States, asking people at the top end of the economic spectrum, the people who have done the best in this economy, to pay a bit more so that we all can thrive together. And it’s been working. We can’t afford to go back.”
How Prop 30 restored community colleges
Waddell described the impact of the Great Recession on community colleges in Los Angeles: “The budget cuts forced us to cancel summer and winter sessions and reduce the number of classes offered so that it took students an extra year or two or three to complete their training, transfer, or graduate. We also had to cut essential services necessary for students to succeed, services like library hours, counseling, and tutoring. With the passage of Prop 30 in 2012, we slowly began the process of restoring the losses we suffered during the recession. As the budget continues to improve, enhanced counseling services will result in significant gains in student success – if,” she cautioned, “they…are…maintained.”
Budget forecasts show that unless voters extend the taxes on the wealthy, which would continue to bring in an average of $8 billion in annual revenues, California public schools will lose nearly $4 billion in the first year alone.
A recent Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) survey found that 64% of voters support extending the income tax rates on the wealthiest individuals and couples to spare education and other vital services from a repeat round of devastating budget cuts.
By David Bacon
On Sunday, 19 June, demonstrators blocked a highway - a common form of protest in Mexico's southern state of Oaxaca - after the federal government arrested leaders of the state's teachers union. Heavily armed police then fired on teachers, students, parents and supporters. Nine people were killed, and many more were wounded.
Nochixtlán, the town where the massacre took place, has since become a symbol of the resistance of Mexican teachers to corporate education reform. In the United States educators quickly responded to support their embattled Mexican colleagues, condemning the attacks and calling for the release of the imprisoned unionists.
The 74th annual California Federation of Teachers convention, held in San Francisco and attended by nearly 700 delegates and guests, got off with a bang two hours after the convention began on Friday morning, March 11. That's when about half the convention delegates piled outside into a light rain and demonstrated in support of affordable, quality public education and the struggle of City College of San Francisco faculty for a decent contract in the face of its accreditation crisis.
The delegates marched a half dozen blocks to the law offices of the chief negotiator for City College of San Francisco administration, formed a huge picket line, and circled and chanted as thirty of their number sat down, blocked the doors of the building, and got arrested. They were peacefully cited and released, in the process attracting widespread news coverage.
Said Malaika Finkelstein, a delegate from AFT 2121 and one of the volunteers to commit civil disobedience, "I feel energized by the convention. I’m proud to be part of a union that cares so deeply about social justice. It showed in our discussions, workshops, resolutions, and in our actions in the street."
Inspirational speakers and moments abounded during the weekend, which was themed “Activate Labor for Justice.” A plenary panel discussion moderated by CFT vice-president Joanne Waddell on “Building Power” featured local CFT leaders Sergio Robledo-Maderazo, Amy Foote, and Zohara Kaye together with Texas AFT Secretary Treasurer Ray McMurrey, who brought the perspective of unionism from a right-to-work-for-less state. The latter presentation made clear that yes, unions can function in a right to work state, but public education is better off union-strong rather than union-free.
Delegates heard from anti-racist activist Tim Wise, California Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate Kamala Harris (by video), and labor historian and climate justice organizer Jeremy Brecher. Each provided thoughtful commentary. But the stage was stolen by two moments of high emotion by CFT members themselves.
In the first, Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers leaders Theresa Sage and Gemma Abels were the co-recipients of the Women in Education Award. Sage, who is blind, spoke first, describing her local’s successful fight against corporate charter takeovers in the Morgan Hill district. Abels, who was also deeply involved in that fight, talked graphically about her recent discovery of and struggle with stage four ovarian cancer. Tears flowed freely on stage and in the audience.
The same emotion bathed convention participants during CFT president Joshua Pechthalt’s State of the Union address. In his wide-ranging speech, Pechthalt spoke of the growing threat to labor posed by billionaire-backed legal assaults and public campaigns vilifying teachers and public education. He thanked the delegates for passage of a special dues assessment to wage the court battles and their vote to increase per capita dues to strengthen the organizing and political work of the statewide union. When he began to speak about the need for a single payer health care system, referencing his own health issues that cost his family thousands of dollars, he had to stop. After he struggled twice more to continue, his daughter raced to the stage and hugged him as the crowd rose to its feet with a resounding standing ovation and solidarity clap.
Resolutions and policy
The five CFT resolution subcommittees debated thirty resolutions before sending the top three from each committee to the convention floor. Among them, Resolution 11 called for a return to free higher education for all. Resolution 29, debated after Jeremy Brecher’s presentation on climate justice and unions, committed CFT to pursuing a climate justice agenda. And resolution 30 established a task force to explore a new name for CFT, reflecting the changes in membership over the years from a mostly K-12 teacher organization to one representing a broader swath of education employment.
[Final resolutions will be available in this space within a few days.]
Dozens of workshops on Friday and Saturday, led by CFT leaders and staff and outside experts brought educational policy and labor issues before the attendees.
Friday’s workshops, offered in two banks, presented a large menu of diverse topics. These included recent developments in educational technology, reclaiming the promise of racial equity, retirement issues, and educating immigrant youth. Saturday’s workshops focused on the CFT's Building Our Power program, providing skills and insights related to strengthening the union’s capacities to organize, mobilize and especially defend our rights and public education itself in the face of the anti-union privatizing forces arrayed against us. The Friedrichs Supreme Court case, perhaps the most visible of the current attacks on labor and education, was but one of the many instances discussed.
Meetings, reports, awards
In addition to the statewide union, four division councils of CFT met, Secretary Treasurer Jeffery Freitas delivered a report on the union’s finances, communications awards were handed out in an entertaining presentation by CFT staff Jane Hundertmark and Shannon Willson, the Legislator of the Year award was bestowed upon Assemblyman Jose Medina, and John Perez, now head of the CFT’s retirees’ division, a former UTLA leader, received the Ben Rust Award.
In short, as usual, the CFT convention provided an intense and revivifying experience for its hundreds of participants. As Oxnard high school teacher Ben Todd put it, “It was a weekend of important activities that truly tied in with the convention’s theme, “Activate labor for justice.” I am grateful for the opportunity to attend and represent my local.”
See photos on the CFT’s Facebook page. Videos on the need to extend Proposition 30, the battle for fair accreditation, and presentations by keynote speakers will be posted in this space soon.
• “Teachers’ protest jumpstarts major conference in San Francisco”, California News Service
• “California Teachers cited during protest over contract talks,” Merced Sun-Star
• "City College Faculty arrested during protest over contract talks," CFT Press Release
• “City College Faculty arrested in contract protest,” Bay City News
• “CCSF educators arrested during sit-in protesting direction of contract talks,” San Francisco Appeal
Joanne Waddell, President of Local 1521 speaks at Proposition 30 extension kick-off press conference.
On May 11, 2016 in Sacramento, in front of California Middle School, leaders and members of unions and community groups stood before a large group of reporters and announced that the coalition they belonged to had just turned in more than a million signatures to place the "California Children's Education and Health Care Protection Act" (now Prop 55) on the November state ballot.
CFT vice president Joanne Waddell said, "During the recession colleges and universities cut classes, laid off faculty and staff, and increased tuition and fees, pricing higher education out of the reach of many working families. We don't want to go back to class cuts and skyrocketing tuition rates. Our children, our puiblic schools and our community colleges cannot afford tax cuts on the wealthy." Waddell is also president of the Los Angeles College Faculty Guild, AFT Local 1521.
This measure, now Proposition 55, proposes to extend Proposition 30. Prop 30 has been a game changer for public education in California. The new ballot measure will ask to extend the top bracket income taxes for the wealthiest 2% of Californians, and drop the modest sales tax that had been part of the original Prop 30. The revenue will help ensure that California continues to move forward toward funding education for all students from pre-school through university.
Prop 30, a temporary tax passed by California’s voters in 2012 by a 55 - 45 margin, saved the state’s public sector by pumping $7 – 8 billion per year into state coffers from two sources. About a billion dollars comes in from a one quarter of one percent increase in the sales tax, and the other six billion or so dollars originates in three tiers of 1, 2, and 3 percent bumps on taxpayers making $250,000, $300,000 and $500,000 per year. Thus it is a mostly progressive tax, with the regressive portion—the sales tax—expiring at the end of this year. The final year of the tax on the wealthy will be 2018, unless it is extended.
“We cannot afford to let Prop 30 expire,” says CFT president Joshua Pechthalt. “Thanks to Prop 30, we have only just begun to restore the programs and positions lost to the Great Recession. Without this tax, which asks millionaires to pay a little more in taxes so that all of us can benefit, public education will return to the devastating years of budget cuts, layoffs, and skyrocketing class sizes and tuition increases.” CFT is partnering with the CTA, SEIU, and other unions to pass the extension.
Proposition 55 will extend the tax on the wealthy for twelve years. You can help by contacting your local to find out how to help register voters, make presentations to community groups, and get resolutions of support passed by your school or college board.
The CFT's annual summer school kicked off on Monday, June 22, in Pomona at the Kellogg
Conference center with rank and file members of the CFT's locals attending from all over the state. Classes kept the union activists busily engaged with nuts and bolts union skill-building led by CFT staff and leadership. The majority were first-time attendees at the popular training. "It's a bit overwhelming," said one member from the ABC Federation of Teachers. "But as a newly elected local leader, I can already see how valuable this will be for me and the local."
View Union Summer School photos on Facebook.