About 400 delegates at CFT Convention discussed resolutions on a broad range of policy issues; heard from the law school dean at UC Berkeley, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Tony Thurmond, the CFT-endorsed candidate for the job of superintendent of public instruction; joined thousands to rally and march for safer schools and common sense gun control; learned a whole lot about Janus v. AFSCME, a Supreme Court case that could effectively turn the public sector into a “right to work” zone; and heard from a teacher in West Virginia where they succeeded in getting a 5 percent raise for all public employees.

The Convention was held March 23-25 at the Hilton Orange County in Costa Mesa.

In a grim time for public schools and unions in general, with Donald Trump as president and billionaire anti-public education advocate Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education, speakers acknowledged the bleakness of the situation while exhorting CFT members to fight harder and offering bright spots to celebrate.

Guest Speaker Tony Thurmond: On Friday morning, Tony Thurmond, addressed the Convention, talking about how he’s seen support staff, such as custodians, make a big difference in the lives of students, He always knew he wanted to be on the side of working people, Thurmond said, and as superintendent of public instruction, he wants to make sure all students, including low-income ones like he was, have an opportunity to get a great education.

Lots of workshops: After lunch, conference attendees had a choice of dozens of workshops to attend, including ones on pension advocacy, cultural relevance, climate education, and adjunct issues. Another series of workshops focused on Janus preparedness.

We’re Off and Rolling see our first photo album on facebook

West Virginia solidarity: In the evening, during the EC/TK-12 Council meeting, members heard from one of the teachers involved in the strike in West Virginia. The victory in a deep red state was one of those bright spots, and later in the Convention during general session, Rico Tamayo, the indefatigable president of the EC/TK-12 Council, had delegates join hands while singing John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” to honor the teachers of West Virginia (described in the song as “almost heaven”), and to remember to stand in solidarity with one another.

Guest Speaker Erwin Chemerinsky: On Saturday, the dean of UC Berkeley Law, Erwin Chemerinsky talked about the what’s going on with the Supreme Court, focusing particularly on Janus v. AFSCME, which would mean unions couldn’t collect “fair-share” fees from nonmembers who benefit from the union’s bargaining activities. A similar case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, went to the court in 2016 and resulted in a 4-4 split decision after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Now that Trump has appointed conservative Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court in his place, Janus is predicted to become law. With this and other cases, Chemerinsky said the Supreme Court could possibly be the most anti-labor it’s been since the 1930s. But he pointed out that rather than despairing, our choices are to give up — or fight even harder.

State of the Union: President Joshua Pechthalt echoed some of this in his State of the Union address, talking about how demoralizing and frightening the past year has been — he even likened it to 1930s Nazi Germany — but he said there are still rays of hope and the feeling that a progressive movement is growing in opposition to Trump and his destructive policies. Some positive things have happened in the face of a terrible political climate, like in our state, City College of San Francisco getting accredited after a five-year battle, Compton College after 10 years, and the CFT winning its lawsuit against the accreditation agency. Pechthalt also talked about how the victory of the West Virginia teachers emboldens labor and the inspiration of seeing teenagers organizing after the Parkland shooting.

Members in Motion — see our second album on Facebook

Ben Rust Award: Dennis Kelly, former AFT and CFT Vice President and former president of United Educators of San Francisco, received the Ben Rust Award, the union’s highest honor. He methodically gathered his family, including his triplet grandkids and UESF colleagues, on the stage with him during his acceptance speech, demonstrating that when we work together, we can get more things done.

March for Our Lives Rally: After lunch, people boarded eight buses to take them to a March For Our Lives rally in Santa Ana. Hundreds of thousands attended throughout the country and internationally. Teenage survivors of the February 14 shooting of 17 students at a school in Parkland, Florida, organized the rally, and their advocacy for safer schools and gun control is another bright spot to celebrate. At the rally, another person endorsed by the CFT — this time for governor — Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, spoke, along with two CFT members, confirming his support for gun control and thanking the teenagers leading this movement.

Delegates join March for Our Lives — see our album on Facebook

Elections: When buses returned from the march, elections were held for delegates to the AFT Convention and the California Labor Federation. CFT President Joshua Pechthalt, Senior Vice President Lacy Barnes, and Secretary Treasurer Jeffery Freitas were elected from a field of six candidates.

More awards: Sandra Larsen, president of the Petaluma Federation of Teachers who organized a successful one-day strike, received the Women in Education Award. Ron Gaer from ABC Federation of Teachers was honored with the Raoul Teilhet Award. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher and Senator Connie Leyva were also honored for their advocacy for public education and unions with the Legislator of the Year Awards. About two dozen local unions took home communications awards, and numerous locals won awards for their political advocacy and organizing work.

Policy debate: Delegates also debated resolutions on policy. Ones that generated a lot of discussion was one to raise the workload of community college part-time faculty from 67 percent to 80 percent, which passed, and one to protect students and staff from the health risks of pesticides, which also passed. A constitutional amendment also passed to change the CFT Convention to be a biennial event instead of an annual event. Next year, the Convention will be in Los Angeles and will mark the CFT’s 100th anniversary. Following that Convention, the next one will be held in 2021.

Great Moments — see our final photo album on Facebook

— Reporting by Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter
— Photographs by Sharon Beals and Lori Eanes