Rain, wind, and a four-hour round trip from her home could not keep English teacher Jessica Nelson away from City College of San Francisco to join a one-day strike on April 27, the first strike in the school’s history.
“I wanted to support my fellow faculty,” she said. “There’s a lack of respect for faculty here. That’s what led to this strike and all the time, energy and effort the union has put into it.”
Faculty members at City College have been working without a contract for more than a year, and due to takeaways, are making about 3.5 percent less than they did in 2007. Other issues that led to the strike include administration plans to cut classes by 26 percent over the next few years and holding onto reserves of $60 million they could use to support students and faculty.
AFT Local 2121, which represents faculty at the college, filed an unfair labor practice, charging that the much-maligned Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, which tried to revoke the college’s accreditation in 2013, has inserted itself into the bargaining process, leading to a large drop in enrollment. The accrediting agency is currently under scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Education, the California Community College Board of Governors and the state chancellor’s office.
By 8 a.m., tables with coffee and donuts were set up at college entrances. Chants of “Whose college? Our college! Whose contract? Our contract!” rang out, and occasionally, “Whose donuts? Our donuts!” to accompany the passing cars honking in support. Even when the morning rain briefly became a downpour, students, community members, labor leaders, and faculty didn’t leave the soggy picket line.
At the Phelan Street entrance, a Teamsters truck stopped. And marching with a much-coveted purple sign that read, “Prince Supports City College,” was Josué Argüelles. No raise since 2007 isn’t acceptable, says the CCSF student and co-director of Young Workers United, a multi-racial organization dedicated to raising standards in the city’s low-wage service sectors.
In response to the strike, Interim Chancellor Susan Lamb closed the school for the day, citing safety concerns. Argüelles believes the chancellor is blaming teachers, and hopes the strike shows the positive community feeling towards them.
Sheila Tully, chapter president of the California Faculty Association at San Francisco State, saw that community feeling when she canvassed for Proposition A, a parcel tax voters passed to support City College. When faculty at SF State recently planned a five-day strike, called off when a contract agreement was reached, Local 2121 members supported them. Tully is picketing to reciprocate.
“This is what solidarity looks like,” she says. “This fight is for the future of higher education.”
When Linda Mickelson, a child development teacher, told the parents of the children in her preschool classes she would join the strike, they decided to come with their kids. So a bunch of toddlers carrying “We are CCSF” signs significantly upped the cuteness quotient.
The same day, the sun shone on a noon rally at the Civic Center near City Hall. Speakers included former state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who asked “What the f— is happening to San Francisco?”; Local 2121 President Tim Killikelly; CFT Secretary Treasurer Jeff Freitas; students and former students; Labor Council Executive Director Tim Paulson; Supervisor Jane Kim, who said she is behind CCSF “100 percent”; United Educators of San Francisco President Lita Blanc; and City College ESL teacher Venette Cook, who couldn’t resist sneaking in a vocabulary lesson, talking about the words “fair,” “legal” and “respect,” as well as their opposites. Cook says that when someone puts off an important conversation, the way the district is doing with negotiations, it shows a clear lack of respect.
After the rally, Jessica Buschbaum, Local 2121 secretary and a member of the negotiating team, said the union called the one-day strike after months of district officials’ lack of seriousness in bargaining and their rhetoric on raising enrollment with no real plan.
“It’s as if you have a tree,” she said, “and they’re saying to save this tree, we need to cut it off at the roots.”
Buschbaum thinks the strike will make a difference, citing faculty, workers, community and students all standing together.
“We want them to bargain in good faith and have a vision of a future where we’re not looking at cuts and cuts and more cuts,” she said. “We’re very hopeful because the way we see it there is money, and we just need to shift the political will, and we’ll get there.”
— By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter, and Instructor at City College of San Francisco
Voices from the line
“I came to support my teachers. They need to get paid.”
Oliver Wilson, Computer engineering student
“A strike is significant — you do it when you don’t have any
alternatives. It’s the ultimate weapon for workers to withhold
Sheila Tully, Chapter president of the California Faculty Association at San Francisco State University
“I expected a good turnout, but I didn’t expect this. I mean,
look at it — the students are out and community people. I don’t
know who the administration thinks they represent, but they don’t
represent the people of this city.”
Tarik Farrar, Chair, African-American Studies
“I’m very pissed off with the district for not negotiating in
good faith. They need to stop listening to the
not offering fair wages and they’re trying to divide and
part-timers and full-timers.”
Cliff Liehe, Member, Retiree Chapter of Local 2121
“It can be very demoralizing. We come in with a serious proposal
and they take weeks to respond or the response is ‘No’ or it’s
regressive. It’s insulting.”
Wendy Kaufmyn, Engineering instructor, member of Local 2121 Negotiating Team and Executive Board
“I think it makes a difference being here. It’s being visible —
people driving by may go home and look it up. And they see the
Nicole Harris, Former student in child development
“I’m appalled at the administration’s narrative of pitting
students against faculty. I hope the administration does agree to
the union’s demands and stops trying to divide teachers and
Josué Argüelles, Student and Co-Director, Young Workers United
“The so-called rainy day fund is very, very large — a lot larger
than it needs to be. The union has shown that.”
Jeff Liss, English teacher