Petaluma Federation of Teachers, Local 1881
The Petaluma Federation of Teachers first came into being in October 1968 when a group of about fifteen Petaluma teachers met at Georgia Squires’ house to discuss plans for founding a teachers’ union in Petaluma – a radical idea at the time.
The goals of the organization were to provide quality representation for local teachers through activism, organization, and information. We wanted effective local autonomy. A teachers’ union seemed the answer.
During the ensuing three months, an organizing committee was set up, a constitution written, a dues structure established, and officers elected.
Finally, on February 6, 1969, the charter of the Petaluma Federation of Teachers, Local 1881, was received from AFT headquarters in Washington, D.C. PFT was officially born.
In its twenty years of existence, PFT has published more than 330 issues of its award-winning newsletter, The Petaluma Priority, has conducted numerous surveys of teacher opinion on negotiations, curriculum, staff development, school reorganization, and has grown in membership from 7% to over 92% of the teachers in the district.
PFT’s spirit of activism really began in 1971 when Georgia Squires, Rick Owen, and Clair Norman appeared before the Board of Education to ask for restoration of teacher salary increments which had been withheld by the district because of President Nixon’s wage-price freeze. When the Board declined for legal reasons, PFT sued the district to recover back pay for teachers. PFT’s membership nearly tripled and for the first time the Federation took a seat on the Certificated Employee Council.
By 1973, PFT’s membership had doubled again, entitling the union to a second seat on the CEC. The union also sponsored a highly successful symposium on the subject of “Economics in Education.” Clair Norman was elected president of the union for what turned out to be a term of twelve years.
The following year, PFT held another very well-attended seminar on the “Pros and Cons of the Year-round School,” and the Priority won first place in the Union Teacher Press Association awards.
In 1975, PFT, for the first time, became the majority teachers’ organization in Petaluma. When collective bargaining went into effect in 1976, it was the union which submitted the petition for recognition as exclusive representative and won the collective bargaining election on February 17, 1977. That same year, PFT’s president Clair Norman was elected a CFT state vice president.
Since that time, PFT has negotiated five collective bargaining contracts including binding arbitration of grievances and agency fee.
In 1985, when Clair Norman stepped down from the union presidency, a new phase of PFT’s history began. Under newly elected president John Braito, and with the support of chief negotiator Georgia Squires, elementary vice president Shirley Collins (later president), and negotiator Jon Harford, two major developments occurred.
First, a program was initiated to broaden the union’s membership base. In the last three years, that base has risen from 66% to over 92% of the teachers, with only 21 teachers remaining on agency fee.
Second, negotiation of an educational policy trust agreement began. Under this program, union participation in district affairs has put it on the cutting edge of educational reform. Under the Educational Policy Trust Agreement, PFT has negotiated a program in the Affective Domain, a fully-teacher-involved program of K-12 Staff Development, and Shared Decision-Making and School- Based Management.
The future looks bright for the Petaluma Federation of Teachers as the union enters its third decade with Jack Schipper at the helm as PFT’s eighth president.
(Clair Norman, contributor)