2014 AFT Convention Speech

July 14,2014

Good morning convention delegates,

My name is Joshua Pechthalt and I am honored to be the president of one of the most progressive unions in the California labor movement, the California Federation of Teachers, representing more than 100K education workers from early childhood through higher education.

I want to welcome you to my home town, first named Yang Na by the indigenous people, then, Nuestra Señora Reyna de Los Angeles de Porciuncula or our lady queen of angels of Porciuncula by the Spanish colonizers and today called Los Angeles.

I am proud to say that this convention center sits in the middle of a hotel and entertainment complex called LA Live that was built by union members and is today 100% union.

Most recently our city has been the location of a destructive and anti-public education court ruling, the Vergara versus the State of California lawsuit, brought by a wealthy Silicon Valley businessman David Welch and backed by another billionaire Eli Broad. This ruling, which we are appealing, will do nothing to put a single pencil or book in a child’s hands, it won’t add one additional nurse, mental health professional, aide, teacher, counselor or librarian or additional resource in our schools. And it won’t enhance mentoring or training programs for teachers.

What it will do is create a climate of fear in our schools, incentivize teaching to the test, and currying favor with administrators. Unless this is overturned, Districts and administrators could be encouraged to get rid of higher salaried teachers, union activists, educators asking difficult and unpopular questions and anyone willing to speak up on behalf of students.

Vergara is predicated on the absurd notion that eliminating rights for teachers will benefit students and somehow will result in improved public education for California’s students. Of course if that were the case, our most anti-union states with no protection for teachers would be models of educational excellence and equity.

But that is not the case because we know, unlike much of the media and many elected leaders, that quality education is the product of proper funding, low student to teacher ratios, proper staffing, quality training and mentoring for educators, collaborative work environments and perhaps most importantly socio-economic conditions that result in good jobs, adequate health care and hope for the communities in which our schools are located.

Unfortunately this court ruling masks the positive work that our members have been doing to turn around this state after years of devastating budget cuts. It was the CFT alone among labor that joined with community partners to lead the way in 2012 on the Millionaires Tax and ultimately joined with Governor Brown to pass Prop 30, one of the most progressive tax measures in our history to fund schools and services. For the second year in a row, we have reversed years of budget cuts and layoffs, held the line on tuition increases, and increased spending for all of public education. While much more needs to be done, we are on the right track.

We have also been engaged in an important struggle around higher education and reclaiming a powerful vision and policy first put in place by the late Governor Edmund Brown in the early 1960s, called the California Master Plan for Higher Education that committed the state to providing free or low cost higher education for any high school graduate interested in pursuing college. It made it possible for my mom, a single parent with no college degree at the time and raising two kids, to send her children to the University of California.

The CFT with the unwavering assistance of the AFT and the leadership of local 2121 have been engaged in an on-going struggle to keep City College of San Francisco open and accredited by challenging a quasi-governmental commission that has threatened to close down the college and other community colleges as well.

Finally, we are a state where the current Governor Jerry Brown and our elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, understand that our kids and public education can not be reduced to a test score and both of them have been willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with educators and chart an approach to public education that flies in the face of many of the destructive federal education policies promoted by the White House.

Of course, at the end of the day we understand that the only thing we can truly rely on is the power of our members to build strong locals, deepen our ties with our natural allies in labor and the community and rebuild the kind of progressive movement in the streets that can demand quality public education and social justice for all Americans.

So on behalf of the membership of the California Federation of Teachers, welcome to LA, enjoy this fantastic city and let’s have a great convention!

Thank you