Janell Hampton rarely slows down as she goes about connecting faculty, students, staff, unions, and community groups. The political organizer for the 1000-member Peralta Federation of Teachers is pulling together people with a long-term vision for improving public education. She calls her work “the perfect opportunity to impact the world in a way other than teaching.”

Hampton carries a .75 FTE load teaching English at two colleges including Laney College in Oakland, one of four campuses in the Peralta Community College District. During the past 14 years, she has worked concurrently for multiple college districts, feeling “rootless” because she didn’t belong to any single campus community.

“I became a teacher to make the world a better place, but I wasn’t feeling fulfilled until I got involved in the union.” Hampton served the Peralta Federation as an elected officer and representative before becoming an organizer under a grant from the CFT program, Political Leaders United to Create Change, or PLUCC. Now she works more than 20 hours a week for the union.

Since November, Hampton has helped build a student, faculty, staff, and union coalition that works to save the district millions of dollars, money that can restore classes and services. The coalition is asking financial giant Morgan Stanley to cancel interest rate swaps on bonds issued by the Peralta district.

When interest rates were rising, the district bought into interest rate swaps, switching from adjustable to fixed interest to protect against fluctuating variable rates. But when the banks failed and variable interest rates dropped to nearly zero, the Peralta district was left to pay a fixed interest rate much higher than if it had kept the variable rate.

Morgan Stanley got the government bailout, but the public got nothing, Hampton exclaims. “With all its PR about supporting education and at-risk youth, Morgan Stanley should pass on its break, starting right here in the Peralta district.”

Peralta President Matthew Goldstein drafted a letter to Morgan Stanley, also signed by the chapter president of SEIU, Local 1021, the union representing campus staff. The union leaders requested that Morgan Stanley “drop the swap” and return the district bonds to a variable interest rate.

The union got thousands of students involved, signing petitions that looked like valentines and writing about how the interest swap negatively impacts their lives. On February 14, the coalition presented the valentine petitions to Morgan Stanley representatives who were meeting with district officials.

Organizing around the Morgan Stanley issue is part of a larger effort. “We want to get people into office who share our student-centered and labor rights values,” Hampton says. The local is working on building a stronger Committee on Political Education, or COPE, to elect local candidates to the Board of Trustees, pass a potential parcel tax, elect CFT-endorsed candidates to the state Legislature and qualify the Millionaires Tax for the November state ballot.

“Working on the Millionaires Tax is of utmost importance,” Hampton explains. “It’s the only tax initiative that takes money from the 1 percent rather than asking for some regressive sales tax that will require everyone to pay.”

The Millionaires Tax would require those making more than $1 million a year in personal income to pay their fair share in taxes, raising an estimated $6 billion a year for schools (early childhood, K-12 and higher education), seniors, children’s and disabled services, public safety, and rebuilding roads and bridges.

Hampton’s boundless organizing energy is rooted in her conviction that union work brings good working conditions and livable wages. She believes this is the path out of today’s economic and political crisis.

For years, Hampton heard college administrators “sadly explain how we have less and less money from the district and the state. In every forum or town hall meeting,” she says, “one question kept coming up from all invested parties: ‘How do we connect?’”

Hampton is one political organizer who is poised to create that connection.

— By Mindy Pines, CFT Reporter

About CFT political organizing grants

Political Leaders United to Create Change is a CFT program that has awarded grants to 12 local unions allowing them to hire political organizers. The program is one component of the larger Strategic Campaign Initiative, a CFT plan to build political organizing experience and power in local unions. The initiative also includes coalition building with community groups, regional area councils for CFT local unions to join forces, organizing campaigns to bring new members into the Federation, and training to inspire and activate members. Applications from local unions for the next round of PLUCC grants are due in April.