Long Beach Federation of Teachers
Ben Rust Award 1999
When asked to remember the events that stand out during this long career of teaching and activism in the Long Beach Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1263, Jerry King responds “Being on the right side of so many damn good issues,” Another answer Jerry gives to the same question is “Meeting really good people.”
A native son, Jerry grew up in San Francisco in a union family. He went to college near Chicago, at the Mary Knoll Seminary run by the order of priests who were famous for working with revolutionaries in South America. He left the seminary well before ordination to return to San Francisco and complete his teacher preparation at the University of San Francisco.
When it came time to look for a job, Jerry couldn’t find any high school openings in his native city. So he applied for a secondary job in Long Beach and began his career in that district and in the union in 1964. He taught English and Latin for 32 years, first in Millikan High School, then at Long Beach Poly High School.
“I would have joined the union right away,” Jerry said, “but I joined the Long Beach Education Association because they handed me the membership papers.” As a new teacher he observed the Professional Rights and Responsibilities Committee of the Association because “they wouldn’t take non-tenured teachers.” He said he was “more than disappointed” at the level of discussion and activism in the group.
“They just sat there and took the administration’s word,” Jerry reminisced. When a fellow teacher of his got in trouble, the president of the K-14 AFT Local, Don Fitzgerald, proved so effective at helping that colleague that Jerry joined the AFT. He never looked back.
Jerry’s participation in the Federation has covered a wide range of union activities. He attended State Council meetings as a local president, characterizing them as “an opportunity four times a year to recharge my batteries, to meet with like minds, and to see democracy at work.”
CFT’s charismatic leader Raoul Teilhet said of Jerry, “He was always early to meetings — it had something to do with the limited number of flights at the Long Beach airport or his many years as a seminarian. I found it to be of some solace to rush into a hotel with what I hoped was my luggage and briefcase and there was Jerry. His presence told me that I was in the right hotel, city and state.”
Teilhet appointed Jerry to the CFT’s first Quality Educational Standards in Teaching Council, called the California Curriculum Council before AFT came up with the name and acronym QuEST. At a time when few organizations offered professional development, CFT’s QuEST Council provided professional development through the union lens, offering much appreciated and heavily attended annual conferences. Jerry served on the QuEST Council until his retirement.
During his term, CFT President Miles Myers asked Jerry to take over the Convention Resolutions Committee temporarily, and Jerry subsequently chaired this important committee for approximately 15 years. Jerry always had a strong grasp of CFT policy, which made him an excellent Resolutions Committee chair because he knew where the Federation should be on the issues. He was also able to provide advice and mentoring to newcomers. He assisted the Federation in clarifying its positions before the State Board of Education on such issues as creationism and bilingual education during the turbulent years of Max Rafferty’s superintendency.
Locally, Jerry’s union suffered some setbacks, but also scored some victories. He led the local in its first major effort on December 7, 1977, to become the exclusive bargaining agent. It was, however, soundly defeated by the CTA. Says Teilhet, “The AFT-CFT was defeated in Long Beach for the same reasons that we were over-run in the other big urban districts…and none of the reasons had to do with our local leadership.”
Jerry is currently enjoying his first year of retirement, gardening, cooking, and spending time with friends — “all the things you get to practice during summers off,” he adds.
When informed that he was the Ben Rust Award recipient, Jerry protested that he was most unworthy and very surprised at such recognition. “But the fact of the matter,” says Raoul Teilhet, “is that Jerry is one of the gentlest, most self-effacing people that I have met in the union. During my rounds, I would meet people from Long Beach — teachers, community activists, administrators, politicos, school board members and, of course, union brothers and sisters — and they would all be united in their respect for Jerry King.”