At 2023 CFT Convention delegates unite for justice and for education


Unions are having a resurgence as more and more people, particularly young people, realize how important they are for workers. Guns, not drag queens, present a danger to children. And the CFT plans to fight for a 50 percent raise for workers over the next five years. 

These were some of the hot-button topics that came up at the 2023 CFT Convention at San Francisco’s Westin St. Francis hotel, under the theme “United for Justice. United for Education.” At the first in-person convention since CFT’s 100th year celebration in 2019, more than 300 attendees heard from labor leaders like California Federation of Labor’s Lorena Gonzalez and AFT President Randi Weingarten, as well as elected officials like Assemblymember Matt Haney and Governor Gavin Newsom. They listened to panels on the work being done to protect LGBTQ+ kids in schools, to organize new locals, to unify the classified and certificated workers, and the statewide campaign for part-time faculty healthcare. 

There were many cheers and applause for the CFT members elected to public office, new locals, and membership gains, as well as boos for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has specifically targeted teachers and trans students and banned books in schools. They watched short videos including on El Rancho Federation of Teacher’s Reading Opens the World event with AFT, on City College of San Francisco, and an appropriately polished video from ArtCenter faculty in Pasadena—one of CFT’s newest locals.  

Speakers were sometimes moved to tears, which led to outgoing Secretary-Treasurer Luukia Smith fondly calling the CFT a union of “cry babies.” Delegates rallied in support of San Francisco educators and students and heard from guest speakers Jane Elliot, an anti-racist activist, and political commentator Keith Boykin. Local leader Honey Mahogany emceed the awards dinner, which honored recipients with the Ben Rust Award, the inaugural Dean Murakami Award, and the Women in Education Award.  

The convention kicked off on lucky Friday the 13th with a dragon and lion dance, followed by President Jeff Freitas calling the convention to order, and a welcome from Joanne Waddell from the Los Angeles College Faculty Guild and CFT Senior Vice President Lacy Barnes. 

“Any day a group of teachers comes to San Francisco is a good day,” said Assemblymember Matt Haney, in the city where he was a school board member and a supervisor before being elected to the Assembly. He was followed by Gonzalez, the first woman and person of color to lead the highest labor body in the state. She told the delegates it was an incredible time to be in organized labor, and alluded to a 2010 documentary criticizing public schools, Waiting for “Superman.” Many education experts, including Diane Ravitch and Rick Ayers have pointed out the inaccuracies in the film.

“We’re in a different time,” Gonzalez said. “We’re not waiting for frigging Superman. Superman is right here — it’s the unions.”

Gonzales went on to cite a poll showing a majority of people want to be in a union, particularly people under 40.

“Young people get it,” she said. “They know the system is broken, and the only hope they have is to join together and fight collectively.”

In his remarks, political commentator Boykin encouraged convention delegates to keep fighting for change. After lunch, delegates attended workshops on topics including retirement planning, the story of the United Teachers of Los Angeles strike, and winning local school board elections. 

On Saturday, Governor Newsom, not able to be at the convention in person but speaking on video, thanked the CFT members for their dedication and said his administration would continue to meet challenges. 

“We’re investing billions of dollars in youth mental health,” he said. “I don’t know of another state doing this.” 

In keeping with a theme of the weekend—the resurgence of unions — there was acknowledgement for locals that had grown their membership, such as the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees, Salinas Valley Federation of Teachers, and the Los Angeles College Faculty Guild. CFT welcomed new locals as well: the ArtCenter Faculty Federation, Dominican University of California Faculty Federation of Teachers, and Claremont Colleges Services Library Staff Federation. The new union leaders spoke about how grateful they were for CFT’s help in unionizing. 

In his state of the union address, Freitas talked about how the CFT will always support gay and nonbinary students — in joyous times as well as hard. “We can say gay in this state,” he said, alluding to DeSantis efforts to ban the word in classrooms.  

Freitas talked about the need to address the educational staffing crisis. And he brought up an ambitious goal aimed to help calm many educators’ economic anxiety. 

“We must demand to increase wages by 50% over the next five years,” he said. “It’s doable. We can envision a high quality of life and not a sense of precarity.”

At lunch, delegates rallied across the street in San Francisco’s Union Square, and local education labor leaders spoke to the crowd about the importance of strong public schools. 

In the afternoon, delegates could choose from workshops on topics like the popularity of unions, community organizing, and having conversations about implicit bias. Later, delegates heard from anti-racism advocate Elliot, and then a panel of women shared work they have been doing for workers and student rights. Before the awards dinner, delegates debated resolutions.

On Sunday morning CFT members who were elected to public office were recognized, along with the legislators of the year.

Weingarten, who pointed out that Mike Pompeo, CIA Director and Secretary of State during the Trump administration, had called her “the most dangerous person in the world,” reminded the delegates that elections matter. She cited the $200 million in the fund for part time healthcare in Newson’s budget as an example of that. 

The CFT does meaningful work, Weingarten told the members. 

“You focus on the most vulnerable,” she said. “That’s why I love CFT. You lead with justice.”