The retiree chapter of the AFT Guild in San Diego usually does monthly yoga and meditation classes, as well as getting together for walks and union meetings. Now though, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, members haven’t been getting together in person, chapter President Susan Morgan says.
But this winter and spring, they’ve been busy helping others get vaccinated. People were happy when shots became available earlier in the year for people 65 and older, Morgan says. But in San Diego, like many places across the country, the vaccines were hard to come by.
“What we did in the beginning was give people the information about where they needed to go,” Morgan said. “Then we realized people could not get appointments.”
So Morgan spent her time doing research to help others. She found a website, findashot.org, where local grocery stores such as Vons and Ralph’s as well as pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens listed their openings in real time.
“We got quite a few appointments that way,” Morgan said.
Morgan and others would help people who had difficulty making appointments or were frustrated with canceled appointments by searching for them and entering their information. One chapter member made about a dozen appointments for her union colleagues while she was in San Francisco looking after her grandchildren, Morgan said.
Another website Morgan found and shared with members was Dr.B, which lets people know where in the area they could go for shots that were left over at the end of the day.
Morgan wrote about the resources she found to share with all Local 1931 members at the request of Guild President Jim Mahler.
Morgan has plenty of ideas about what the chapter can do in the coming months. One thing they’ll be working on, she says, is the CFT-sponsored California Tax on Extreme Wealth.
“Our chapter has informed our membership that we support this,” Morgan said. “It would raise $50 million a year and raising that kind of money is really important for rebuilding our economy.”
Another issue important to her membership is getting rid of the Windfall Elimination Program in Social Security, she says.
Many of their members are part-timers, who have worked other jobs and need their Social Security benefits, Morgan says. She is hopeful that under President Joe Biden, they will finally get them.
“I told Jim we want to play a role in this in San Diego,” Morgan said. “We’re going to take it up over the summer.”
Morgan wants to make sure their members know about social issues and she says they wrote a solidarity statement condemning anti-Asian violence, and that they took the AFT Local 2121 statement about Black Lives Matter and racial justice, endorsed it and sent it out to members.
After reading that there are more than 70 hate groups in Southern California, Morgan has been working with the Southern Poverty Law Center to set up a Zoom presentation. “We want to inform our members what actions we can take to fight this,” she said. “These groups aren’t going away.”
* * *
Like Morgan, Bill Philipps, president of the Santa Cruz Federation of Retired Personnel, helped others get vaccinated.
A retired custodian, Philipps says now nearly everyone he knows is vaccinated. But at the beginning of the year, it was very different, with people unsure how to get the shots and spending long, confusing hours at the computer searching for them.
Philipps put out a packed edition of the local newsletter to members, with information from the Centers for Disease Control about COVID-19 as well as ways to get a vaccine appointment, with helpful websites and hotline numbers.
The Santa Cruz City Schools district is doing a good job getting current education workers vaccinated, Philipps says. He recalls seeing custodians at a school site, all lined up and very organized.
The retiree chapter members are still being cautious about COVID-19, Philipps says, but they have gotten together to eat at an outdoor location where they could keep physical distance. He also recently attended a district-sponsored retiree reception on Zoom.
Philipps sends out about 10 emails a year to members letting them know about current issues, legislation that may affect them, as well as what’s going on with CalSTRS and CalPERS. Members have also worked on elections, Philipps says, like making phone calls in the consequential elections of 2020.
Five years ago, Philipps went to AFT headquarters in Washington, D.C., to learn how to start a retiree chapter, and now he’s involved in helping locals start their own.
* * *
Ann Killebrew, president of the Retiree Chapter of AFT Local 2121 at San Francisco City College, believes that’s important. She would like to see every local have a retiree chapter. Theirs helped in the multi-year fight with the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges when they tried to terminate the accreditation of the City College of San Francisco in 2013.
The retiree chapter also got involved recently when City College administrators proposed laying off 163 full-time teachers as well as hundreds more part-timers, which would have eliminated or sharply reduced some key programs and departments, including ESL and nursing. Teachers agreed to pay cuts to stop the layoffs.
That has been a main focus of their chapter, Killebrew says. “We went to supervisor meetings and committee meetings and hearings in the battle to save City College.”
There are lots of ways retired local members can help, says Killebrew, who is also northern vice president of the CFT Council of Retired Members. She thinks it’s important to keep members who retire involved with union work, and she says the 225 members in their chapter make a difference.
“If we have a group of 12 people at something, maybe two will be retirees,” she said. “The people who were active when they were teaching have pretty much stayed active, and they come out for whatever is needed now.”
— By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter