Threat of more furlough days spurs community outreach and response

CLASSIFIED EMPLOYEES had a lot to lose if voters rejected Prop. 30 on November 6. Staff swung into action across California, racking up victories in state and local campaigns that will go a long way toward saving public education.

Gilroy paraprofessionals in AFT Local 1921, for example, resisted pressure to take 10 furlough days until the need was clear, even though district teachers represented by CTA and classified employees represented by CSEA had agreed beforehand to give up the days.

“We were in the middle of negotiations,” said Arcelia O’Connor, president of the Gilroy Federation, “but we didn’t want to make any decision on furloughs until after the vote.”

Federation members phone-banked at the CFT office in Gilroy and the Central Labor Council in San Jose. O’Connor and other union leaders signed a letter sent to every district employee about the importance of passing Prop. 30.

Thanks to Prop. 30, the Gilroy school year has been extended two weeks and the days the other employees lost have been reinstated.

The long shadow of furloughs was also on the minds of 1,500 paraprofessionals represented by United Educators of San Francisco. “Our paras have always been politically active, but there was a little extra motivation this time because those days were at stake,” said Carolyn Samoa, UESF Vice President for Paraprofessionals.

San Francisco paras were saddled with four furlough days during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years. That was cut to 1.5 days this school year and next, but if voters had rejected Prop. 30, that would have increased to 6.5 furlough days in 2013-14 and 10 days in the 2014-15 school year.

“That’s a lot for paras who are only averaging about $25,000 a year,” Samoa said. With the help of a CFT grant, Samoa said the union’s political director and two teachers visited all district school sites – nearly 120 – to mobilize members and build political coalitions.

The election also marked a highpoint for Oxnard’s Federation of Teachers and School Employees, representing more than 400 classified staff members at seven high schools and the district office.

In the last school board race, Classified Vice President Mike Gibbs said, “We were still taking baby steps. We interviewed candidates but didn’t support anyone. This time we also held a public forum and Steve Hall (president of the Ventura County Federation of College Teachers) won hands down.”

Classified employees mobilized members on their campuses, walked precincts and worked phone banks, and thanks to a CFT grant, Local 1273 member Linda Torres, a paraeducator in the district, helped mobilize and organize for four hours per day.

“But our biggest impact,” Gibbs added, “was working with other AFT locals, the League of Women Voters, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and other allies. We all stood together. If it had been just us, we wouldn’t have had the same impact.”

Oxnard has the most furlough days of any district in Ventura County, Gibbs said, “but our board is basically pretending that Prop. 30 didn’t pass. They claim we’re still running a deficit. We brought in a financial expert to show the discrepancy in their figures, but they are ignoring us.”

Newly elected board member Hall has opened communication with the Federation and his support, Gibbs said, will be critical in ongoing contract negotiations.