Joe McDonough
San Mateo Community College Federation of Teachers


Ben Rust Award 2000

For over three decades, Joe McDonough exemplified activism in AFT Local 1493, the San Mateo Community College Federation of Teachers. In politics, in bargaining and in membership recruitment, Joe showed the dedication and commitment that helped build and sustain a strong local union.

Joe thought of himself as a propagandist, not a dirty word in his vocabulary, but defined as someone who knew something about public relations and practical politics. He advocated forming a COPE committee in Local 1493, wanting to see a certain viciously anti-faculty member of the Board of Trustees defeated. Joe helped set up the infrastructure that led to his ouster and to the establishment of the local as a political force.

Although Joe held virtually every position possible on Local 1943’s Executive Committee, including two terms as President (1982 and 1987), and terms as Vice President and Chief Negotiator, the position he held for the longest time was that of Chair of the Membership Committee. In this capacity, Joe’s union work became legendary in the district. He kept a list of all the faculty on his office wall, a blue pin next to the name of each non-AFT members. His goal was to remove, one by one, those blue pins. Joe would go to each newly hired faculty member, introduce himself and the union, answer questions, and almost always return with a signed AFT membership form.

Even after Joe was on his post-retirement contract, he kept that list of faculty on his office wall, still added the names of all new hires, and still made his regular AFT membership recruitment visits. As a result of Joe’s efforts, almost 90 percent of the full-time faculty became AFT members, Local 1493 won three membership growth awards from the CFT in 1984, 1990 and 1991, and a national award from the AFT in 1989.

A negotiator, Joe took on the crucial function of communicator for the team. Whenever contract negotiations weren’t going well, Joe put out the AFT Faculty Times. Known as the “blue sheets” because of the blue paper used exclusively for them, these bulletins contained facts and statistics that always refuted the nonsense the district put out.

Joe documented that each year the district overestimated its expenditures and underestimated its income, resulting in large ending balances. In fact, Joe became one of the local’s best budget analysts in the course of working on his beloved Faculty Times. He became very adept, for example, at discovering the different areas of the budget where the administration temporarily hid monies in their efforts to claim none existed for decent faculty raises. He once got the CFO to admit that she had hidden over $1 million in a special account. She said she had just “parked” it there. Joe’s hard-hitting analyses of the budget and related issues caused the district to lose much credibility. And the AFT Faculty Times won first place for Best Bulletin Series in the statewide CFT Communications Awards in 1995.

During WWII, Joe served on a Navy destroyer off Okinawa. A Japanese torpedo plane came in under radar, and deliberately crashed into the ship. Half the crew was killed. Joe was picked up by a nearby ship from the water’s flaming surface, but sustained second degree burns.

Perhaps this experience caused him, decades later, to fret about the concentration of Local 1493’s leadership in one building at the College of San Mateo. “We’ve got to spread out the leadership onto other campuses,” he would worry out loud. “One block bomb could take out Building 15 and we’d all go with it.”

Before turning to teaching, Joe worked as a staff psychologist in a locked ward in a mental hospital. This served him well in the San Mateo Community College District. He put his knowledge of psychology to use as a union recruiter, and as one of the most popular teachers at the College of San Mateo. He amused and delighted, as well as educated, his always full classes for over three decades.

Joe’s daughter, Susan, inherited her father’s enthusiasm for social justice and the cause of unionism. She works for SEIU Local 715 in Santa Clara. Her husband, Joe’s son-in-law, works for the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute in Oakland and teaches community college labor studies.

When he retired, Joe McDonough was honored by his Assemblyman both with a ceremony at the College of San Mateo and a proclamation from the California Legislature. It is fitting that the CFT now honor Joe McDonough with the Ben Rust award, its most prestigious honor, for his dedication and commitment over the years to the building of a strong faculty union.