More and more workers – especially young people –  realize how important unions are, and a surging CFT has set its sights on a 50% raise for workers over the next five years. These were some of the hot-button topics at the first in-person convention since CFT’s centennial celebration in 2019.

This year’s meeting in San Francisco convened under the banner, “United for Justice. United for Education.”

More than 300 delegates heard from California Labor Federation , Executive Secretary-Treasure Lorena Gonzalez, Governor Gavin Newsom, and AFT President Randi Weingarten. Delegates at the convention also approved plans for a statewide mobilization to Sacramento during Classified Appreciation Week in May 2024.

“Passing a resolution for a classified rally from the convention floor is a historic moment,” said CCE President Carl Williams. “Delegates from across the state – not just us, but our certificated teachers and other instructors – voted overwhelmingly to celebrate the work we do. The value of our work is finally being recognized.”

There were cheers for CFT members elected to public office, new union locals, and locals with growing membership. And there were boos for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has targeted teachers and trans students, and banned books in schools.

The convention kicked off on Friday March 17 with a dragon and lion dance, followed by CFT President Jeff Freitas calling the convention to order, and a welcome from Senior Vice President Lacy Barnes and Joanne Waddell of the Los Angeles College Faculty Guild.

They were followed by the Executive Secretary-Treasurer Lorena Gonzalez of the California Labor Federation. Gonzalez is the first woman and person of color to lead the highest labor body in the state. 

“It’s an incredible time to be in organized labor,” she told the delegates. Gonzalez cited a poll showing a majority of people, especially people under 40, want to be in a union. “Young people get it. They know the system is broken, and the only hope they have is to join together and fight collectively.”

Governor Gavin Newsom thanked CFT members by video for our dedication, and promised that his administration would continue to meet challenges facing our schools.

“We’re investing billions of dollars in youth mental health. I don’t know of any other state doing this.”

Participants attended panels on topics from protecting LGBTQ+ students and organizing new locals, to uniting classified and certificated employees, and the statewide campaign for part-time faculty healthcare. Workshops included community organizing and winning school board elections, planning for retirement, discussing implicit bias on the job, and lessons from United Teachers Los Angeles’ 2019 strike.

The theme of the weekend — the resurgence of unions — included a salute to AFT locals that grew their membership, including the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees, Salinas Valley Federation of Teachers, and L.A. College Faculty Guild.

Delegates also welcomed new locals, including faculty federations at the ArtCenter in Pasadena and the Dominican University of California, and the library staff federation at Claremont Colleges. 

In his state of the union address, Freitas promised that CFT will always support gay and nonbinary students. “We can say gay in this state,” he said, alluding to DeSantis’ efforts to ban the word in Florida classrooms. 

Freitas talked about the need to address the ongoing school staffing crisis, and raised an ambitious goal to help calm educators’ economic anxiety. 

“We must demand to increase wages by 50% over the next five years,” he said, referring to CFT-sponsored legislation pending in the State Legislature. “It’s doable. We can envision a high quality of life and not a sense of precarity.”

Delegates also rallied across the street in San Francisco’s Union Square, and local education labor leaders spoke about the importance of strong public schools.

AFT President Randi Weingarten reminded the delegates that, for better or worse, elections matter. During the Trump Administration, for example, CIA Director Mike Pompeo called Weingarten “the most dangerous person in the world.”

The outcome is totally different when we elect progressive officeholders, she said, pointing to $200 million in Governor Newson’s budget for part-timers’ healthcare. 

The CFT does meaningful work, Weingarten told the members. “You focus on the most vulnerable. That’s why I love CFT. You lead with justice.”

Convention delegates honor retiring CFT Secretary-Treasurer Luukia Smith

The awards dinner honored recipients of the Ben Rust Award, which was given to Luukia Smith. In addition the inaugural Dean Murakami Award, and the Women in Education Award were announced. The Council of Classified Employees delegates also voted to create an annual Luukia Smith Classified Champion Award.

Following are excerpts of a farewell she posted on Facebook:

“In 2001, I was elected president of the El Camino Classified Employees local, and served for 16 years. I was then elected president of the CFT Council of Classified Employees for two years, and as CFT Secretary-Treasurer for the last four years. 

It has been an honor to serve our members and our leadership team. It was especially great working closely with CFT President Jeff Freitas, Senior VP Lacy Barnes (now Secretary-Treasurer) and CFT’s Executive Council. I will definitely miss my union husband, Carl Williams. We have done a lot of good work with our Classified members throughout the state.

My successes were always a collective effort. It took a village to raise Luukia Smith and get me to retirement. I love you guys!!!”

— By Steve Weingarten, CFT Reporter