AFT College Guild, Local 1521
Genesis of the AFT College Guild was a divorce. It was mostly friendly, although there were those who objected to the splitting of the college teachers from Los Angeles Local 1021 of the 18,000-teacher K-14 district. A committee within 1021 met in 1964 at the home of Hy Weintraub, who went on to become the first executive secretary of the college local. By the time the charter banquet was held on January 15, 1965, some 200 names were recognized as charter members.
Presentation of a program for the colleges by an organization composed of college teachers and devoted solely to their interests brought an immediate increase in members, a growth that continued into the Age of Collective Bargaining. It was seen early on that a separate union for teachers was not enough-there had to be a separate district for the colleges. Measure after legislative measure for separation died in committee or in one house or the other before one finally passed. Don Anderson, the Guild’s second president (1966-68), recalls campaigning for its passage and the difficulty we had in getting a decent Board of Trustees elected from what seemed like hundreds of candidates for the seven offices. The Guild briefed and worked for some candidates like Jerry Brown, but a rabidly right wing majority prevailed.
Even before they were seated this majority set the scene for controversy by demanding the firing of two English teachers who had read a poem that contained some words some members of the community considered less than fit for society. This issue wasn’t words but academic freedom, and the Guild waded in with a fight that finally restored the teachers to their classrooms.
Anderson was president for the last two years with the unified district and took over the executive secretaryship for one year under the third president, the late Robert Ruhl (1968-70) as the district was separated.
Hy Weintraub returned as executive secretary and pushed hard for unity among teachers as it became evident that the Winton Act Certificated Employee Council gave no power to the faculty. “It was a charade of bargaining,” says Weintraub, who met some success with officers of the L.A. College Teachers Association (CTA) toward merger. “At the last minute,” says Weintraub, the CTA put pressure on its college organization to turn down the merger. The shift to the Guild then intensified.”
During the first years of the new Board of Trustees, teachers were appalled over the intense fighting and bickering among its factions. Jean Trapnell, an English teacher who later was named to the State Board of Governors by the then Governor Jerry Brown, started taking what someone called “mercilessly detailed” notes and transcribing them for a newsletter sent to all teachers. What became famous were the quotes at the end of each letter under the heading, “Sacred Sayings.” The Guild took over the distribution of the newsletter and in 1970 issued a little calendar booklet with the same title and a selection of sayings. A sample:
“We must review past mistakes and build upon them.” (Mike Antonovich)
“This is a wonderful example of what can be done in a democracy, that someone can stand up in this meeting and make the statement he just made and not go to prison or a firing squad.” (Marian LaFollette)
“A little censorship doesn’t hurt.” (Antonovich)
“If you don’t have updated copies of the agenda, please refer to them.”(LaFollette)
The booklet became a collector’s item.
In 1970 the Guild elected a longtime faculty leader, the late Arnold Fletcher, to the presidency (1970-79). Weintraub continued as executive secretary for another two years, retiring after the Guild had reached a thousand members. His place was taken in 1972 by Virginia Mulrooney, who as assistant executive secretary had started the long running publication, Read On, a newsletter that provided full coverage and excellent writing by a long series of such unbylined writers as Bill Doyle.
In 1972 the Guild for the first time passed L.A. CTA in membership on the Certificated Council, which then named Fletcher president. Read On said it all: “The fecklessness of the Winton Act, the bad faith of the radical majority of the Board, and the rigid and hostile attitude of the central administration were all in evidence in one ‘meet and confer’ session. Once again the message was driven home: Collective bargaining.”
Guild membership grew even more rapidly in preparation for the CB vote: 1208 in 1973, 1433 in 1974, and 1770 in 1975, compared with LACTA’s 1188 in the same year, the time of the passage and signing of the bill by Governor Brown.
The Guild filed on April 1, 1976 with 58% of the teaching staff, but constant stalling by LACTA blocked a vote until January, 1977. The final vote: Guild 1996, LACTA 1617, no rep 217. Despite a challenge of the results, the Guild became the sole bargaining agent for the LACCD.
President Fletcher and chief negotiator Mulrooney led the team through months of sometimes frustrating but ultimately rewarding work to come up with a contract that was ratified by the membership the day before Christmas vacation, 1977. Called “one of the finest contracts in higher education,” the document provided for a retroactive pay raise, cost of living adjustment, elected department chairs, lecture-lab equivalency, binding and advisory arbitration, tuition reimbursement fund, consultation prior to changing any rule, unlimited half-pay sabbaticals, paid parental leave, and a three-year contract.
Within three years of the contract salaries went up more than 23%, but the shadow of Prop. 13 grew longer and darker. At first its effects were felt with the cancellation of summer school, the refusal to expand classes, then the cutting back of positions, particularly among part-timers. It was to get much worse.
In the spring of 1978 the Guild suffered another blow when Arnold Fletcher suffered a stroke, which forced him to resign in September of 1979. Cedric Sampson (1979-82) was elected the fifth president. Mulrooney remained at her post until Sampson resigned to take a study sabbatical. She then took the CEO power that had resided with the executive secretary to the presidency (1982-83). Jim Hardesty became executive secretary.
One of the primary goals of Mulrooney’s term was the inclusion of the technical-clerical classified employees as a unit of the Guild, which won their election in 1983 and brought about a reversal of the decline in membership because of the loss of teachers. Barbara Kleinschmitt and Sandra Lepore led the Staff Guild. (See separate story.) The next year Mulrooney accepted the position of vice-chancellor of the L.A. Community College District, and Marty Hittelman, her vice-president, became president. The next election saw the hardest-fought campaign in the history of the Guild, with Hal Fox (1984-88) winning over Marty Hittelman, who, a year later, took over the executive secretary ship from Hardesty.
During this period the Guild went through its most traumatic period as the administration and board determined they could “revitalize” the district by firing 143 permanent teachers. A “hit list” was drawn up by the Personnel – Division according to priority within a discipline, with ties being decided and careers wiped out with the luck of the draw. Disciplines that had high class averages were nevertheless declared overstaffed. And it was the universal perception among teachers that as chief negotiator for the administration Virginia Mulrooney worked as hard to destroy the contract as she had as a union leader to build it.
Teachers were insulted and demeaned at hearings and felt they were on trial for being fired. Teachers appeared en masse at the downtown headquarters of the board, only to have the administration call the police. March 15 letters were sent out with the blunt words, “your services will not be required in 1986-87.” Fifty-nine other teachers retired or resigned, not to be replaced, and 200-300 hourly rate teachers were affected by the upheaval.
Sadly, the emotional trauma, the damage to the educational program, and the bitterness need not have happened at all. The Guild, fighting back on every front – political, demonstrations, press, legal – showed that WSCH averages were not that threatening, that the budget was not really as dry as the administration pictured, and that the whole mess was a political ploy. Gradually, names were taken off the list as transfers to other disciplines took place and reductions were challenged. Only two teachers have not regained their teaching posts.
In 1988 Gwen Hill, former vice president and chief negotiator, defeated Fox for the presidency. She had spent 5 1/2 years as a national representative for the AFT. Sylvia Lubow remains as vice president, and Alice Clement is executive secretary.
Space has not permitted a full discussion of several activities that have continued over the years, such as the resolution of grievances. In the first year of the contract, for example, the Guild handled more than 200 grievances, cut down to 30 the next year as the administration learned to live within the contract. A long list of able grievance reps includes Hy Weintraub, Art Avila, Bill Doyle, Sylvia Lubow, Kaye Dunagan, Gwen Hill, and the current Leon Marzillier.
In budget matters Bernie Friedman and Phil Clarke proved most valuable, while in health and welfare and political campaign activities, assistant executive secretary Art Forcier has excelled forever. Connie Rey has been performing valuable service as legislative advocate and field rep. Read On, currently edited by Darrell Eckersley, has been a vital cog in the operation of the Guild, which has also turned out a steady stream of other publications, including a yearly report often called “What Have We Done for You Lately?” and several booklets on retirement, grievances, part-timers, and benefits, as well as volumes of flyers and brochures during the many political campaigns for the Board of Trustees. The first president of the Guild has kept out of trouble by designing and producing most of these publications for these 25 years of Guild history.
As the Guild looks toward its second quarter of century of service, it expects that the issues of the ’90s and beyond will be no less challenging than those we’ve met before.
(Eddie Irwin, contributor)