Classified Conference 2016: Black Lives Matter conversation engages, unites

“When we say Black Lives Matter, we’re saying that we need an agenda that puts our lives right up there with everyone else’s,” said Christopher Wilson, from Alliance San Diego, a group mobilizing for change in low-income communities and communities of color.

Wilson spoke at the Classified Conference on October 8, before attending the funeral for Alfredo Olango, a black man killed by police in nearby El Cajon.

“Don’t be offended by Black Lives Matter — what we’re saying is that we are important too. It’s not an exclusive statement,” he explained. “It does not say care about us and not anyone else. It says care about me like you care about others.”

Many classified employees spoke in support of Black Lives Matter. A Lawndale member in a family with both interracial marriages and police officers praised the movement, but asked for protection of the police too.

“How are we going to make it that police officers are not all bad? How is your organization going to work with police?”

Wilson responded, “Your question assumes I have to do something different than be myself. When I get pulled over, I just pray that I have the demeanor to not get killed. There is nothing I can do to live through that situation if that cop is having a bad day.”

Velma Butler, president of the Los Angeles College Staff Guild said, “I have African American police in my family. They are going through the same hell as everyone.”

Butler summed up the discussion: “Thank you for saying what so many of us have a hard time saying. This is a white problem, a black problem, an Asian problem, a Latino problem.”

San Francisco para named Member of the Year

Tom Harriman has been a special education paraprofessional for 30 years at Lowell High School, escorting students into the community to help them develop independence and effective work habits.

Harriman has represented paras on the executive board of United Educators of San Francisco for 15 years, and serves on the CFT Special Education Committee. He stays abreast of local union resolutions, city and state politics.

“Whenever we need someone to lobby, Tom is ready, and he is one of our go-to paras when we need phone bankers,” said Carolyn Samoa, UESF vice president for paraprofessionals. “The only time he will say no is when it interferes with his students.” 

Classified win family sick leave and grants to become teachers

Classified employees took two giant steps forward in Sacramento during 2016 after the CFT shepherded four bills through the state Legislature that address staff priorities. Gov. Jerry Brown signed two of the bills.

AB 2122 appropriates $20 million over five years to encourage classified employees to return to school and become teachers. Grants from the California Classified School Employee Teacher Credentialing Program to districts and county offices of education will provide up to $4,000 annually to staff seeking a bachelor’s degree and credential.

Already, Ventura County reports that about 140 classified employees have signed up for teacher grants through their county office of education. Staff will be allowed do their student teaching during work time, and some universities are offering a
15 percent reduction in tuition.
AB 2393 provides paid family leave for staff and community college faculty. Assemblywoman Nora Campos (D-San Jose) championed the bill that provides a balance between family and work for all employees. Campos’ bill provides full- and part-time staff in K-12 and community college up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave for both new mothers and fathers.

“Gov. Brown agrees that school employees should not have to choose between bonding with their newborns and having enough money to pay their bills,” Campos said.

Brown wasn’t as generous, however, with two bills that have remained out of classified employees’ reach for years. The governor vetoed AB 2197, which would have extended unemployment insurance to staff during summer and other extended periods when school is not in session, and AB 1878, which would have helped staff cope with rising funeral costs by tying the CalPERS death benefit to inflation.