Phillis Basile, Coast Federation of Educators
When Phillis Beattie Basile signed the AFT charter creating Local 1911, she began a series of challenges that became a significant part of her life’s work. Under her leadership, the Coast Federation of Educators demonstrated continuous militancy to carry on the battle for educational quality, teacher rights, equitable salaries, and employee working conditions on whatever grounds and in whatever circumstances were necessary.
Phillis taught economics at Orange Coast College. She taught macro and microeconomics, published two study guides, and developed and presented a ground-breaking television course in consumer economics, including a major segment on health care provision and purchase. Meanwhile, she became a leader in her department, on campus, and in the Coast Community College District.
She served as Academic Senate President and signed that charter, though California had yet to permit collective bargaining for public employees.
The district abruptly opened a PBS station on the Golden West Campus in 1972, seeking to offer television classes without adequate review by the curriculum committee. Phillis led the charge to hold faculty forums throughout the district. Soon, the Academic Senates and the AFT presented 74 questions about all aspects of the impact of a public television station being run by a community college district, beginning a long struggle to protect academic quality while using new technology.
The passage of the Rodda Act gave momentum to the local’s effort to achieve representational status, and the faculty handily elected Phillis local president. Events surrounding the television station exacerbated by the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 brought to a head the issue of district financial priorities. The chancellor preserved funding for the TV station while slashing teaching programs, increasing teachers’ workload, forcing some administrators and non-teaching personnel into the classroom, freezing salaries, and abruptly canceling previously-approved sabbaticals.
When faculty questioned both the figures and the plan, Phillis quickly forged a coalition to fund the first independent fiscal analysis of the district. The district fought to deny access to the figures, and Phillis did not hesitate to use the public records act to obtain the data; the analysis found violation of the 50 percent law, under-reporting of KOCE-TV costs coupled with over reporting of income, and, despite district statements that there was no reserve, a substantial ending balance.
Unit determination hearings, ultimately resulting in two bargaining units, delayed collective bargaining until May 1979. When Phillis sat down to begin negotiations, she little realized that it would be well into the new year before the union secured a contract. That task completed, Phillis led the local to achievements within the Community College Council, later serving as a Vice President of the CFT.
Back home, despite the audit and decreased funding by the state, the district continued its wasteful ways. Phillis led the union in a fever pitch of direct action to prevent faculty and classified staff layoffs: a candlelight vigil, a coffin labeled “Education,” a Rolls Royce to symbolize mistaken priorities, and a union-produced video characterized presentations to the Board of Trustees in 1982.
On February 16, 1983, the board issued layoff notices to 117 faculty and 10 administrators, with other faculty displaced and reassigned to cover the gaps. Phillis determinedly worked to insure affected faculty legal rights, assuring them that the union would not rest until the district reinstated them. A six-day administrative hearing reinstated only eight, but that summer, Phillis inspired and led faculty, classified staff, and students, including her daughter Katy, to collect signatures in one of the largest recalls in the history of California.
Though the recall came up short, three incumbents lost their seats that fall, creating a new majority, and on December 16, 1983, they acted before a packed auditorium, reinstating all the faculty who had been laid off in time to return them to classes for the spring semester.
Bonds forged during that time could not be broken, and classified staff approached Phillis to affiliate. A decertification election soon led to a new name for the local and a new affiliation for the classified staff, followed, nearly one year later, by a new and improved contract.
The Board of Trustees then challenged Phillis by recruiting her to be the new Vice-Chancellor for Human Resources. After deliberating with union sisters and brothers, she accepted, serving with distinction until her retirement in 1988. Her belief in the dignity of the individual and the value of the individual’s contributions to the success of the enterprise dramatically improved the climate of labor relations in the Coast district.
Throughout her life, Phillis has successfully woven family life with a life of service. Born in Montana, Phillis was relocated by her parents to the East Coast at age three. After her father died when Phillis was only 13, she and her mother somehow survived during the latter years of the depression. She began her distinguished academic career when she received a full scholarship to Douglass College of Rutgers University, being elected student body president and graduating Phi Beta Kappa.
With her Bachelor of Arts in Economics, Phillis returned west, along with her mother, when the University of Washington offered a fellowship involving researching employment trends. Relocation allowed the two to be nearer to her mother’s family, San Francisco being a mere 24-hour bus ride from Seattle. She later moved to San Francisco where she met and married R. John Basile, meanwhile negotiating for California Nurses Association, and as Western Representative, Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor, a body then engaged in internal controversy about whether passage of an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution would harm the special protections for women in the workplace and in social welfare that the bureau had worked so hard to put into place.
That leadership role led Phillis to organize and chair the first conference of the Status of Women Commission in Los Angeles in 1961. She well remembers wafting into the hall in a lavender maternity dress, almost ready to deliver her second child, George.
Phillis continues to fight for right and justice in education and in society, taking direct action to assist her attorney daughter, Katy, and husband Michael, with their growing family. When George married Christina, and the babies came, Phillis was there too, to enjoy time with the little ones. She put her union experience to good use, serving as a public member on the Committee of Credentials, California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, on the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education, and on the City of Laguna Beach Personnel Commission.
Phillis continues to inspire. In 2001, she took on a special project with the fledgling Palomar Faculty Association, acting as chief negotiator and executive director, and rousing 21st century faculty to new heights of activism.