Greater Santa Cruz Federation of Teachers, Local 2030
In the late 1960s a group of teachers from Santa Cruz High School, under the leadership of George Smith, Bob Lissner, Dick Roth and Dan Happer met to discuss the possibilities of organizing a union independent from the CTA.
On March 16, 1969, 23 teachers met at Harbor High School to formally organize and elect officers of the newly established Greater Santa Cruz Federation of Teachers, affiliated with CFT and the American Federation of Teachers. The officers elected for the new Local 2030 were: President, George Smith; Vice President, Ron Boortz; Secretary, Libby Harrington; and Treasurer, Bob Lissner. Union dues were established at $16.80/year.
The first challenge the Union faced was the difficulty of distributing information to teachers. Administrators were members and officers of CTA during the 1960s and generally hostile to the unionization of teachers. Principals refused to allow the placement of union literature in teacher mailboxes. Direct confrontation and a challenge to this illegal action resolved the situation. The Union gained visibility with its publication, “Board Hi-Lites,” which appeared in teachers’ boxes the morning following each school board meeting!
From its beginning the union mainly was made up of mainly secondary teachers. In an attempt to broaden its base the Union began a concerted effort to attract elementary teachers. One of the first was Donna Cohick, a new teacher at Gault Elementary School, who helped increase Union membership in the elementary schools.
Prior to collective bargaining the union participated in Winton Act Councils with CTA. Under the leadership of Ron Boortz, Union President from 1970-72, Union visibility grew. Duty-free lunch became a major issue. After pressure from President Boortz and other Union activists, the District conceded and agreed to follow the law. In 1972, when it became difficult to find a new president, a committee of teachers from Gault Elementary led by John Moore shared the responsibilities of Union representation.
By 1975 membership had grown to 86. George Smith assumed leadership for a second time. Just as the Union was showing signs of significant growth the Collective Bargaining Act passed. Both teacher organizations filed to become the exclusive bargaining unit. Fearing defeat, the Union withdrew from the bargaining election on October 5, 1976, automatically making the Santa Cruz City Teacher’s Association (CTA-NEA) the exclusive representative. Union membership dropped drastically.
In 1977, Al Wright became president. Schools were facing massive financial problems: inflation was averaging 12-13% while state COLA’s were only 4-6%. Layoff hearings were held by the District. The Union offered counseling and legal help to all teachers involved in the layoff hearings regardless of membership, in contrast to CTA’s position to help only members. As a result, membership in Local 2030 began to grow again.
Collective bargaining placed the union at a disadvantage, since all bargaining and contractual matters were now in the hands of CTA. In an attempt to stay in the political arena, the idea of a coalition between Santa Cruz City Teachers Association (SCCTA) and the Union emerged. Under the leadership of SCCTA president Donna Cohick, a former Union activist, and Don Maxwell, a member of both GSCFT and SCCTA, unity talks began. After considerable debate, both executive councils gave tentative approval to the plan. A Constitution and By-Laws for the new United Teachers of Santa Cruz was drawn up and a date set for teachers to vote.
The state CTA was adamantly opposed to this idea. The SCCTA Executive Council had to call a meeting one day prior to the election, and after bitter debate decided narrowly against letting teachers vote on the Coalition proposal. The Coalition effort had been strongly supported by the SCCTA president, Donna Cohick, who promptly resigned; other executive members also resigned from SCCTA.
Amid growing teacher resentment over CTA actions to kill the unity movement, GSCFT circulated decertification cards in spring, 1978. An election date was set for March 18, 1980. The decertification campaign was a monumental effort. At election time GSCFT had 90 members and SCCTA 250. CFT Field Representative Julie Minard, Donna Cohick and Don Maxwell, GSCFT President organized an effective election organization and strategy. The final vote (155 SCCTA-260 GSCFT) proved SCCTA had lost valuable leaders and credibility. Still committed to unity, GSCFT sent a letter to SCCTA offering to create a coalition. The letter was returned unopened.
Despite Proposition 13, the first Union contract (1981/82) produced a 10% salary increase. The new contract also improved due process of transfer and reassignments and grievance procedures.
The Federation grew rapidly in the early 1980s. As bargaining agent the Union brought new vitality to teacher leadership. In an effort to promote teacher involvement in educational issues, the first QuEST conference was held at UCSC in February, 1981. The conference was a huge success and established the Union as a leader of teacher professionalism.
In 1981 the first major clash between the District and the Union occurred over the involuntary transfer of 15 teachers. They brought the issue to arbitration. The ruling supported the Union contention that the District had violated the contract. The District rescinded most of the involuntary transfers.
Donna Cohick became union president in 1981. Donna also continued to serve as chief negotiator. Under Donna’s leadership as grievance chairperson, many issues with the District were resolved without lengthy and costly arbitration hearings. Salary negotiations were increasingly difficult due to the aftermath of Proposition 13 and a tightening of state finances. In spite of these difficulties, a three-year contract was secured for 1981-83. A second QuEST conference was held in February, 1982.
Kaj Blomquist, a long-time union member became president in 1984. By 1985 membership reached 175.
In 1985, Don Maxwell was elected President for the second time and has continued to serve as union leader. Recognizing the continuing interest in professional issues in Santa Cruz, the CFT selected the Federation as one of 15 unions to participate in the Commons Commission study of the teaching profession in California. As part of the emphasis on the teaching profession, the Union held a third QuEST conference.
In 1986, the Union established a scholarship in honor of Al Wright, former president and founding member, who died suddenly in the fall of 1985. The scholarship is given to a graduating senior each year who intends to pursue a teaching career.
After many months of bargaining with the District over the implementation of a 7-period day for secondary schools and the demand for a decent salary settlement, agreement was finally reached in February 1987. Teachers won a 10% salary increase and partial coverage for retiree health benefits. The Union agreed to a pilot program for 7-period schedules at Harbor High School and Mission Hill Junior High School.
GSCFT was selected to be one of 6 AFT locals participating in the Educational Policy Trust Agreement sponsored by the California School Boards Association and the California Federation of Teachers. A Policy Trust Committee worked on a plan involving peer evaluation, completed by the end of the 87/88 school year. During the summer of 1988, Jeanette Miller and Emily Duffus were selected to serve as the first teacher consultant peer evaluators. All new teachers were placed with a teacher consultant/peer evaluator. The evaluation of these teachers was a collaborative effort by the teacher consultant and the site administrator. Evaluations and a recommendation for rehire went to a Review Board composed of 3 union members and 3 district members who made the final recommendation to the Superintendent.
Three pilot programs for peer evaluation for tenured teachers were also initiated at Soquel High School and Bay View Elementary School. All programs received high marks for success at the end of the school year and recommended for expansion to all school sites in the fall of 1989.
The Federation joined other AFT locals of the Monterey Bay Area in sponsoring a fourth QuEST conference. Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester, New York, AFT local and nationally recognized leader of the school restructuring movement was a key-note speaker.
The Policy Trust Agreements produced a more cooperative spirit between the District and the Federation. The District agreed to negotiate directly with the Union leadership without an attorney; as a result, negotiations were less adversarial and concluded by the end of September, 1988.
Because of District accounting errors, loss of enrollment and escalating health benefit costs, the year ended with a feeling of fiscal uncertainty. The collaborative process endured, however, as the District established a budget committee composed of Board members, District representatives and Union leaders to balance the budget. Attention then focused on the implementation of Proposition 98.
It has been the underlying principle of the Union to promote better conditions for teachers. While this translates to contract language and economic improvement on one level, it also demands a commitment to the improvement of schools through the professionalizing of teaching. Members of Local 2030 remain dedicated to this course.
(Don Maxwell, contributor)