Carl Williams, President of the Council of Classified Employees and AFT Vice President, started out his address to attendees to the annual Council of Classified Employees conference by telling them he wasn’t going to preach to the choir. He wasn’t going to talk about how classified workers are the last hired and first fired. Or how they’re not treated as professionals. Or how they aren’t paid a living wage often leading to long commutes because they can’t afford to live where they serve. Or how public education relies on classified workers for its existence.

Instead, Williams wanted to talk about the theme of the conference — Flexing Our Power, Protecting Our Progress. He said he had looked it up in the urban dictionary, and “flexing” means “showing off.” “With all this power, we could break out of our silos,” Williams said. “The bullies would back down and wonder, ‘Do I really want this fight?’”

Williams went on to list some locals who had shown off their power to get results for the members, including Antelope Valley College Federation of Classified Employees, who won a Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) settlement, getting a six-figure award for back pay; Gilroy Federation of Paraeducators gaining a stipend for bilingual paraprofessional; the Lawndale Federation of Classified Employees moving 76 part-time position into six-hour positions with benefits; custodians at Palomar College going from some of the lowest paid in the state to some of the highest; the local at Coast Community College District changing their name to Coast Federation of Classified Professionals to reflect the CFT branding; and United Educators of San Francisco who won a living wage for paraeducators.

“I could go on and on and on,” Williams said to laughs and applause. “We won it all because we deserve it all. We want the bird in our hand and the two birds in the bush as well.”

Williams then showed a Florida news clip about a well-funded group, the Freedom Foundation, out to destroy unions and actively trying to encourage members of the United Teachers of Dade, the largest teachers’ union in the state, to stop paying union dues.

“If I owned this mic, I would drop it. I encourage you to fight and “Flex your Power.” Williams said, going on to garner a standing ovation.

“Who are we? We are CFT and we’re United for Education. We are United for Justice!”

“That’s our president,” said Janet Eberhardt, member of UESF and Northern Vice President of the CCE. “He belongs to us.”