CFT boycotts Staples to save postal worker jobs

CFT boycotts Staples to save postal worker jobs

Union asks members not to purchase supplies at low-wage retailer

The CFT is boycotting office supply retailer Staples at the request of the American Postal Workers Union, which is opposing a no-bid sweetheart deal between the U.S. Postal Service and the giant office supply retailer to operate postal counters in Staples stores. An estimated one-third of Staples’ revenues come from the sale of school supplies, many purchased by teachers and other school employees for classrooms.

“These no-bid contracts point to a dirty deal,” said CFT President Joshua Pechthalt. “By the simple act of asking our members and educators across the country to buy their school supplies elsewhere, we put postal service management and a profit-seeking corporation on notice that the quality of mail delivery is not for sale.” CFT BoycottStaples

Last fall, the postal service announced that postal counters would open in 82 Staples stores in four states, 29 of them in California. The postmaster general has announced his intention of expanding the Staples partnership to 1,500 Staples locations nationwide following the trial period. The APWU sees this Staples “pilot” as the first step in privatizing retail operations of the U.S. Postal Service and eliminating local public post offices.

“The consumer will suffer.” Pechthalt said. “A lack of postal training means less mail security and worse service, without any cost savings for the consumer.” 

Staples workers — earning minimum wages and meager benefits — will staff the in-store postal counters, rather than uniformed postal employees paid a living wage. Staples sales clerks receive little training and are not required to have a background check or take an oath before handling U.S. mail. Staples also has a high rate of employee turnover. 

“This is the people’s post office, and the people have choices,” said Pechthalt. “We want to send a clear message to the U.S. Postal Service and Staples that we value public service. Our members have choices where to buy school supplies, and we won’t shop at Staples as long as it operates postal counters without professional postal workers.”

CFT has long been opposed to the privatization of public services in schools, colleges and other public institutions, especially when the contractual terms between the government agency and the private contractor are cloaked in secrecy. The CFT Executive Council passed the resolution on April 28, and it calls on the CFT to introduce a similar resolution at the AFT Convention in Los Angeles this July. — By CFT Staff

>Learn more about APWU’s Stop Staples Campaign.

Learn more about the boycott

> Download the flyers
What's Wrong With This Picture?
U.S. Mail is Not for Sale

> Download the resolution passed by CFT.

> Learn more about APWU’s Stop Staples Campaign



RANK & FILES, April-May 2014

Sharon Hendricks, a speech instructor, member of the Los Angeles College Faculty Guild, Local 1521, and a member of the CalSTRS Board, was elected by her colleagues as vice chair of the 12-member board for the 2014-15 term. The chair and vice chair provide board leadership, direction and policy development for the largest educator-only pension fund in the world.

Janet Eberhardt, a member of United Educators of San Francisco, Local 61, was named Education Support Personnel of the Year for 2014 by the California Teachers Association. Eberhardt works as community relations specialist and elementary advisor where she serves as liaison between families and the school. She is dedicated to reaching out to families to affect positive change and to encourage healthy interpersonal relationships for children both at home and at school.

Ann Fontanella, an English-as-a-Second Language instructor and at City College of San Francisco, Local 2121, received the International TESOL Teacher of the Year award, the highest honor given by the organization of 12,000 educators representing 156 countries. This award recognizes the exceptional work, service and dedication of outstanding instructors. In conjunction with the award, given in Portland, Oregon, Fontanella presented her work in developing and teaching courses that promote leadership skills in students.

Nancy Shiffrin, an English instructor and member of the Los Angeles College Faculty Guild, has published two collections of poems in print. One, The Vast Unknowing collects a wide spectrum of poetry including some relating to the teacher’s experience. Shiffrin earned her master’s studying with Anais Nin and her doctorate studying Jewish American authors. The Vast Unknowing is available for purchase online

LOCAL WIRE, April-May 2014

LOCAL 1078
Raise the wage…Educators are joining the fight to raise poverty-level wages. The Berkeley Federation of Teachers is a leading participant in the campaign to raise the minimum wage in Berkeley and securing a better economic future for the city’s families.

On May 1, International Workers Day, teachers and community members demanding economic justice rallied before a City Council meeting where council members moved forward the proposed minimum wage ordinance. If passed, the measure would eventually raise Berkeley’s minimum wage to the level of Berkeley’s living wage currently set at $13.34 and adjusted for inflation.
Matt Meyer, an economics teacher at Berkeley High, made the connection between income inequality and educational opportunity. He went on to say, “We won’t stop advocating until all working families receive a fair wage.”

Organizing for power…Along with teaching eighth-grade English full-time at Sierramont Middle School, Christopher Davis, co-president of the San Jose Federation of Teachers, teaches English-as-a-Second Language at night. But even with those two jobs and writing his dissertation for a Ph.D. in education, Davis, winner of a Dedicated Union Activist Award, still mustered the time and energy to talk to everyone at the East Side Adult Education School who wasn’t a member of the union. That work paid off when membership grew from 36 to 60 members.

In related news, adult teachers in the Metropolitan Education District, and a separate unit of Local 957, just concluded contract negotiations. The MetroEd teachers negotiated a 3 percent increase to the salary schedule starting July 1 and another one-time 3 percent boost in pay at the end of this school year.

LOCAL 1020
Fighting incarceration…Ana Barrera, a social studies teacher at Everett Alvarez High School in Salinas and a union representative for the Salinas Federation of Teachers, believes California should be giving young people more educational opportunities — not building bigger institutions to lock them up. So she fought against the plan for a new juvenile detention center in East Salinas, organizing community forums and garnering media attention. Local President Steve McDougall says the union is lucky to have an emerging leader like Barrera, winner of a union activism award.

Not just a job…Betty Robinson-Harris, an early childhood educator for the San Francisco Unified School District and a member of the United Educators of San Francisco who serves on the San Francisco First 5 Commission, won the 2014 CFT Raoul Teilhet, Educate, Agitate, Organize Award from the CFT EC/K-12 Council.

Robinson-Harris said she loves having a job in which she affects families by working with their children and teaching them to be respectful and responsible. She thanked her ancestors “whose shoulders I stand on” and the union, who she said is a family to her, sharing good and bad times.

“This is not a job for me,” she said. “It is my passion.

UCLA professor leads mobilization of lecturers and librarians

UC IMG 5699

UCLA urban studies lecturer and labor researcher Goetz Wolff, left, wants to reach out “to the many non- Senate faculty members being denied the most basic rights of Senate faculty.”


UCLA professor leads mobilization of lecturers and librarians

Statewide campaign builds on established strength in campus locals

Goetz Wolff has taught at UCLA for more than 20 years, but was generally more involved with Southern California’s vibrant labor movement than with the union on his job. Wolff, for example, earned high praise for his six years as research director at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, but barely knew the ins and outs of the University Council-AFT.

For the past year, though, the urban planning lecturer has been drawing on his broad union experience to plan and implement a strategy to fully enfranchise UC-AFT’s 3,000 lecturers and 300 librarians.

Wolff said the idea for a campaign germinated last September at the UC Berkeley Labor Center, during a week-long training for UC-AFT members and field representatives from four of the system’s 10 campuses.

“We envisioned ‘You See (UC) Democracy’ directly reaching out to members and potential members,” he said, “especially to the many non-Senate faculty members being denied the most basic rights of Senate faculty.”

The following month the UC-AFT Executive Council approved the campaign’s central strategy of increasing the members’ voice in crucial, state-level decisions by mobilizing locally.

“Statewide power comes from local strength,” Wolff said. “We need to activate our members to continue winning good contracts, but we must be strong all year, not just when we’re negotiating.”

After decades of UC-AFT representation, the pay and benefits of contingent faculty compare favorably to other universities, though negotiations weren’t always smooth. Job actions rocked six UC campuses in 2003. The librarian unit recently ratified a five-year contract and lecturers are preparing to negotiate an agreement to replace one that expires in June 2015.

“Statewide power comes from local strength. We need to activate our members to continue winning good contracts, but we must be strong all year, not just when we’re negotiating.”

During April, union locals in Irvine, Berkeley, Los Angeles and San Diego held listening sessions with lecturers and librarians. An accompanying recruitment drive enrolled more than 150 new members.

At UCLA, for example, the local is mobilizing against the Dean of Social Sciences for capping a Cesar Chavez School of Chicano Studies lecturer before his sixth-year review to prevent him from holding the appointment. This is known as “churning” or “post-six avoidance,” a practice UC-AFT has fought and has addressed by negotiating statewide language giving lecturers reappointment rights. 

UC-AFT’s roots go back to 1971, when activists formed locals at seven campuses. UC employees won the right to bargain collectively in 1978 after Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation into law. Librarians affiliated in 1983, followed the next year by the lecturers, who ratified their first statewide contract in 1986.

Today, UC-AFT members work with nearly 60,000 other UC employees represented by Teamsters, Communications Workers, United Auto Workers, AFSCME and other unions.

“We are the largest group of employees who are carrying out UC’s core mission — educating students,” Wolff said. “But of all UC employees, lecturers are the hardest to organize. Some only work on campus one day a week, and others don’t work every term.”

Wolff has taught for more than 20 years in UCLA’s graduate Urban Planning program. He was asked to develop his own courses, such as “Labor and Economic Development” and “The Southern California Regional Economy,” that have entered the course catalog.

“I choose to teach half time,” Wolff said, “so I can integrate my consulting work with unions, public agencies and community organizations with my classes, and so I can mentor students. The result is that my students begin to link their classroom work with practice in the field, and that often leads to activist jobs.”

— By Steve Weingarten, CFT Reporter

Course repeatability rules restrict student access, learning

Cabrillo College faculty lead effort to expose failings in new regulations

The new course repeatability regulations, passed by the Community College Board of Governors in July 2012, mean, in most cases, that if students pass a class with a ‘C’ or higher, they can’t take the class again. Many community college teachers see this negatively impacting students who want to study, for example, journalism, creative writing, foreign languages or visual arts.

“We’re losing our life-long learners, a really important group that elevates the classroom dialogue and brings in a certain level of inspiration,” said Tobin Keller, the chair of the Art Studio at Cabrillo College in Aptos. “We need repeatability for the three things I find most important, which are depth, breadth and inclusiveness.”

The intended goals of these regulations are to prioritize basic skills classes and to help students transfer and complete certificate programs. But opponents say the regulations block access for many people in the community the colleges are meant to serve.

The short story or poetry can’t be mastered in just a 15-week semester, says Katie Woolsey, an English teacher at Cabrillo. Students taking creative writing often need to take a class more than once to get the most out of it, she says, and the new regulations mean students can’t do that — which is frustrating for both them and for teachers, who are losing committed students in their classes.

Susan Stuart, who teaches theater arts at Cabrillo, sees students dropping because they can’t take a class again. So students lose a chance to get more experience — and the program loses talented actors, she says.

“What is our intention? Isn’t it to educate everyone who comes to us?” Stuart asked. “This sets up unnecessary roadblocks to student success.”

At a jam-packed workshop called “Keep the Community in Community College” at the CFT Convention, Cabrillo teachers and others from around the state told story after story of how they see these new regulations hurting students and how not being able to repeat a class, such as English-as-a-Second Language or intermediate Spanish, stops students from becoming proficient and leads to declining enrollment.

“We’re losing our life-long learners, a really important group that elevates the classroom dialogue and brings in a certain level of inspirations.”

It’s more difficult to meet the goal of supporting educational success in Disabled Students Programs and Services, says Beth McKinnon, the director of that program at Cabrillo. She sees the regulations limiting access for students and leaving them unprepared for classes; their confidence slips. “Their educational plan doesn’t match what they’re able to take,” she explained. “And we’re losing them.”

It’s particularly ironic that these regulations went into effect before the passage of Prop. 30 made funding for more classes available, says Maya Bendotoff, executive director of the Cabrillo College Federation.

“We worked hard to pass Prop. 30,” she said. “Many districts could be serving more students without these restrictions.”

Teachers, tired of seeing student access limited and class enrollment falling, have been taking action to get the repeatability regulations changed. Along with targeting academic senates, Bendotoff urges union members to look to student senates, the union, and key legislators on education committees to get the Board of Governors, who passed the regulations, to change them. Many people mistakenly believe that since the repeatability regulations were passed in the wake of the Student Success Act, they are part of that legislation, but it’s important to let people know that’s not correct, Bendotoff says.

“These could be changed with enough pressure on the Board of Governors,” she said. “It’s not a legislated solution — the change needs to come from the community.” 

— By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter

Staff seek equal access to unemployment benefits

Employees struggle to make ends meet when the paycheck stops during school breaks

Linnette Robinson has worked with special needs students at Berkeley High School for four years. Every winter and summer, Robinson, who has worked stints at other elementary and middle schools, tightens her belt and scrapes by during school breaks the best she can. “Most of us won’t see a paycheck from mid-June to the end of September,” she said.

During summer breaks, Robinson — a mother of four who still has two teenagers at home — has gone on food stamps. During winters, the instructional assistant had used vacation time to cover the two weeks off. Last December, however, the district stopped the policy. “That hurt. We barely make any money, and when you take away those days it really hurts.”

Relief may be on the way. State legislators are debating a bill by Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, D-Pacoima, to provide classifieds and other public school workers access to unemployment. Bocanegra’s AB 1638 would eliminate the “reasonable assurance of employment” letters that school districts use to deny benefits to staff during breaks. The bill would also create a uniform standard to determine which unemployed workers are eligible for payments.

“This is a question of equity and fairness,” Bocanegra said. “Virtually every other employee is allowed the opportunity to apply for unemployment benefits when they are out of work. Why is this one group excluded?”

Bocanegra knows first-hand about education employees’ economic struggles. His mother was a teacher’s aide for many years at his local elementary school and his father was a gardener at a local Catholic school.

“We spend so much time trying to hide the pain, but it hurts when I work this hard at a government job and still qualify for public assistance.”

CFT Legislative Representative Kendra Harris points out that the Bocanegra bill has no direct link to the landmark legal decision CFT won in 1989 in Cervisi v. California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, which provides unemployment benefits to part-time faculty, and will remain the standard for temporary faculty even if AB 1638 is enacted. (See page 4) Most classified staff, by contrast, are full-time and year-round.

“Some qualify for unemployment benefits, others don’t,” Harris said. “This law would provide districts a uniform response to separate a real layoff from seasonal unemployment.”

Harris also reminds classified employees that current law allows them to file for retroactive payments if they were denied benefits at the start of summer, then laid off when classes resumed in September.

AB 1638 is pending in the insurance and appropriations committees of the Legislature. If ap-
proved as written this year, it would take effect January 1, 2015, and employees would be eligible for unemployment benefits next summer.

“Unemployment benefits would alleviate the pressure during that down period,” Robinson said. “It would help put food on the table when my kids are at home on break.”

Passage, however, is hardly assured. A similar bill that Bocanegra carried last year died. “We obviously hope to achieve a different result this year,” he said. “It’s up to us and our coalition of supporters to convince legislators that this is a good policy.”

Robinson recently went to Sacramento for CFT Lobby Days and broke down in tears when describing the fight to make ends meet to Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo. “We spend so much time trying to hide the pain, but it hurts when I work this hard at a government job and still qualify for public assistance.” 

By Steve Weingarten, CFT Reporter

Learn more about AB 1638

> Read the bill about unemployment benefits now before the Legislature.