North Monterey County Federation of Teachers, Local 4008


Chartered 1979

The story of the North Monterey County Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 4008, begins before collective bargaining came to the district. In fact, it begins before North Monterey County High School came to the district, which is where the local was founded.

In the winter of 1977-78, teachers Neil Agron and Stephanie Smith were hired by the District to help plan the opening of a new high school nestled among the artichoke fields. They were teaching in other districts at the time, and drove together back and forth to the San Jose Airport a number of times. It was during one of their conversations on that drive that the subject of teacher unions came up. They had discovered that the CTA had been recognized by the district to represent teachers in the North Monterey School District in 1976 after the Rodda Act had passed, and that it had been unable to negotiate a contract since. Agron had been an AFT member in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District for many years. He said to Smith, who had gone to her first California Federation of Teachers convention the year before and was very impressed, “I’ve never been a member of CTA, and I don’t see any reason to start now.”

Proposition 13 had just passed; a new school was being opened, and there was little money. Perhaps by way of compensation, the motto of the high school was “Now’s Your Chance”, and the principal let it be known to the young, energetic newly-hired staff that this was their opportunity to do what they had always wanted to do in teaching.

Smith, Agron and a number of likeminded teachers discovered that one thing they wanted to do was form an AFT local. But before they put together what was to become the NMCFT, the CTA finally – after three years – came up with a contract. It was not acceptable, containing not even a hint of a grievance procedure. A “Defeat the Contract” movement was spearheaded by the proto-AFT, which created the “Concerned Teachers of North Monterey County” and issued a stream of flyers. Joined by disgruntled teachers within the CTA, the group defeated the contract in April of 1979 by a margin of 116-73, and began looking toward forming a union.

In September of 1979 a group of teachers led by Agron, Smith and Mike Powlen decided to decertify the CTA. The event followed upon event with lightning rapidity. By October the union teachers had been issued an AFT charter, with the signatures of twenty two teachers on it; they had circulated election authorization cards to the faculty; and gained the necessary number of signatures to hold an election. The first election was held in December, and the results of the ballot were inconclusive; no one had a plurality. The vote was AFT- 108, CTA- 107, no rep-4. The AFT utilized home visits, which had mixed results: some teachers thought it was an invasion of their privacy, while others felt grateful and astonished that anybody cared enough about organizing teachers to come to their home and talk with them.

During the run-off campaign the AFT proposed that the two organizations join in a united group. The CTA refused. During the election the CTA demanded that teachers who were department heads be declared ineligible to vote (several AFT leaders just happened to be department heads). Although PERB ultimately ruled in favor of the AFT, they were not allowed to vote during the election. The fledgling AFT local lost the runoff in January.

The Local stayed alive for the next few years under the presidency of Stephanie Smith through its publications and social events. The publications group was made up of Neil Agron, Julie High, Gena Kurzfeld and Kimberly Patterson. They published Boarderlines (which reported on School Board meetings, and provided teachers with information they received from no one else) and Thistle, the monthly newsletter.

By 1981 membership had doubled, and Bob Coble began teaching in the district. He had been a member of the AFT in Guam, where he had been vice president and editor of a 2,400-member local, and had weathered a 58-day strike. In 1982 the CTA invited Bob to join its bargaining team in a unity move; but he was soon “dis-invited” by the state CTA, which demanded that he join CTA first. This infuriated many teachers and helped lead to the local Association’s downfall.

In 1983 the NMCFT gathered signatures from two-thirds of the teachers for another election. At the Executive Committee meeting everyone felt pretty good, even getting past the sudden realization that “If we win, we’ll have to do all the work!” Julie Minard, CFT staff representative, provided logistical leadership during the campaign, and the nearby Salinas Valley Federation of Teachers lent their office. The unions of the Monterey Bay Council of CFT locals and AFL-CIO also gave support. In May 1983, with Coble as President, the North Monterey County Federation of Teachers became the bargaining agent with 70% of the vote. Following the election president former Stephanie Smith left teaching to work in the Literacy Project.

The Executive Committee had been right: that’s when the work began. After the election the AFT bargaining team negotiated into the following spring. The personnel director had earlier boasted that he’d never reached agreement with the CTA, and the superintendent was also hostile to teachers organizing. Within a year that superintendent was gone, the board and union were working reasonably well together, and the old personnel director became superintendent. Finally, in May, union members Coble, Kurzfeld, Barbara Rosenthal, Jeanne Dick, and Roberto Lovato, with Minard’s assistance, finished hammering out a three-year contract, and it was ratified. The teachers received a back pay lump sum of 6% for the first ear, 8.8% for the second, and the third year 7% (after mediation and fact-finding).

The contract also achieved an increase in the list of things that could be subject to binding arbitration, reduced class size, and created a better leave policy.

In 1985, the high school newspaper advisor George Wright wrote an editorial critical of the back-to-school night in the school paper. This occurred during the third year of his probation. He was suddenly given a series of extra observations and negative evaluations, clearly related to the criticism in the paper. The union called on its lawyer, Jan King, who came and defended him. The teacher kept his job.

The following year Coble, Agron, Kurzfeld, Rosenthal, Dick, Lovato and Harold Whitfill negotiated the second union contract, this time a two-year agreement. Another first for the teachers of the district: NMCFT negotiators got the district to agree to pay part of teachers’ dependent cost for health coverage. They also brought two thirds of the contract under binding arbitration.

Stepping into uncharted waters, the union became involved in board elections in 1987 and 1988. AFT member Tom Forgette ran the campaign of John McKie against three incumbents in the 1987 election. McKie’s main purpose in running was to improve relations between the district, the board and the union. With the assistance of AFT members Forgette, Sherry Fukuhara, Coble and Agron (among others), who distributed buttons and bumper stickers in all the schools, he got the most votes of any candidate. But McKie, who worked for the federal government, received a job transfer in 1988. So the AFT looked for a good replacement. Forgette managed the campaign of Jim Gonzalez, whose children attended school in the district, against anti-teacher candidates, including the former trustee who’d been defeated the previous year. The union helped overcome racial divisions in the electorate for the victory, providing campaign workers, gaining the endorsement of the Monterey County AFL-CIO Labor Council’s COPE and putting out numerous COPE newsletters.

The North Monterey County Federation of Teachers is proud to have been the first AFT local in California to participate in the “Win-Win” negotiations of Dr. Irving Goldaber for their third contract. The school board sat down as equals with teachers, and even board members whom the union had opposed felt the experience had improved communications and their relationship with teachers. Representatives of Local 4008 have been invited to speak with many other CFT and CTA locals about “Win-Win” negotiations procedures. The negotiations team of Coble, Whitfill, Frank Robinson, Jane Rosa, Marianne Strader, Tom Forgette, Kim Ward, and Ken Jordan negotiated an agreement for the district to pay complete health coverage for one dependent, raise salaries, require service fees for nonmembers, and provide prep periods for the new “middle schools” staffs.

(Neil Agron, Bob Coble, Stephanie Smith, contributors)