Miller, Mark James

An upbeat mood prevailed at the California Federation of Teachers annual convention last month at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. In everything from the legislative report to the speakers we heard, all the way to the gala dinner commemorating the CFT’s first 100 years, optimism ruled.

This was a pleasant contrast to last year’s convention, with the shadow of the yet-to-be-delivered Janus decision hanging over delegates like the sword of Damocles. The ruling, never in doubt considering the conservative, anti-union makeup of the Supreme Court, came down last June 27, and while there is no denying the harshness of it, its impact has not been nearly as severe as its union-busting backers had hoped.

From all over the state locals reported their membership has actually grown since then, that a new sense of purpose has fired up members and made them more determined to keep fighting for what they believe in.

The delegates heard a great deal about the recent and successful teachers’ strike in Los Angeles. Inspiring as that was, we also heard from Fred Albert, president of American Federation of Teachers West Virginia, who told delegates of a successful strike there.

As in Los Angeles, teachers in West Virginia were not simply striking for higher pay. They struck for their students as well, demanding smaller class sizes, having more nurses, counselors and support staff at schools. If a teachers’ strike can win in one of the reddest of red states, the implications are obvious.

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Approximately 500 delegates from every corner of California attended, as well as nearly 200 guests and staff. The PFA sent three delegates, and came away with three wins in the annual Communication Awards. We also attended workshops on mobilizing members, political activism, and using the latest technology to build membership.

While the CFT is always active in Sacramento, of special interest to the PFA is AB 897, which would raise the maximum workload of a part-time instructor in community colleges from 67 percent to 85 percent of a full-time load. The CFT is also supporting more funds in the governor’s budget for part-time faculty office hours.

The delegates elected Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Freitas as the new president, replacing Josh Pechthalt, and also elected Luukia Smith as the organization’s new Secretary-Treasurer. Her election is notable because she is the first classified employee to hold such a high office in the CFT.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the California Federation of Teachers. The organization has survived and grown through the Great Depression, World War II, the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s and the tumult of the 1960s. It has gone through the present era with a president who is no friend to teachers, to unions or to education. The CFT’s founding credo, spelled out in “A Statement of the Principles and Purposes of the California State Federation of Teachers,” which was approved in San Francisco in May 1919, asserted that education was a “universal right,” that there should be “equality of the sexes,” schools should be operated in a “nonpartisan” way, that the union believed in “reason above force,” and that they as a union believe in “more democracy for the schools” in “our beloved state.”

No one could gainsay that in its first 100 years the CFT has lived up to those principles, that it believed in them then and it believes in them now. Anyone who was at the 2019 convention could have no doubt that the CFT will be around another 100 years.

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Mark James Miller is an associate English instructor at Allan Hancock College. He is also president of the Part-Time Faculty Association. He can be reached at mark@pfaofahc.com.