San Diego Federation of Teachers, Local 370
Local 370 is one of the earlier AFT locals in California and the West. The San Diego Federation of Teachers has held the number 370 twice. The original Local 370 (the outgrowth in the San Diego City Schools of the independent Men’s Classroom Teachers Association, composed mostly of World War II veterans struggling to raise families on the abysmally low teachers’ salaries of the early fifties) lasted only briefly before folding and surrendering its charter. However, primarily because of the insistence and pushing of “the father of the AFT in San Diego,” the late Hal Whitby, it was revived as the county-wide Local 1278, with chapters in the city and a number of outlying school districts. Ultimately, when the chapters had become solidly established, Local 1278 was dissolved and the various chapters became independent locals. The City Schools chapter then picked up its old number and continued as Local 370.
The first president of Local 1278 was an aggressive industrial education teacher named Mort McGeary. Unfortunately, because he could not support his large family on a teacher’s pay, McGeary after his term as president was up, had to resign from teaching to establish his own electrical contracting business. He then ran for the San Diego City School Board, members of which at that time were uniformly residents of the affluent LaGaIla and Point Loma communities. McGeary’s bid was unsuccessful, but he did throw a scare into the establishment and aroused such interest into the Board’s electoral process that a City Charter Review Commission, with representatives from organized labor, recommended that Board members be nominated by district and elected at large. The recommendation resulted in a municipal ordinance and the Board in time became more representative.
Local 1278’s second president was the late Gladden Boaz. A social studies teacher and a tireless life-long social and union activist, it was Boaz who took the lead in establishing and servicing the chapters in the county school districts. Boaz was succeeded as president by another social studies teacher, Fred Horn, who later became a CFT president.
Horn, in turn, was succeeded by English teacher Dick Martin, who served four years as SDFT president and also became active on the state and national levels. He has served continuously on SDFT’s executive board since he joined the AFT in 1958 and, although now retired from teaching (except for occasional work as a substitute), is again serving as the local’s president. In 1978 Martin was the recipient of the CFT’s Ben Rust award.
Local 1278’s best and first non-city president was Bob Holden of the Grossmont Community College District. It was toward the end of Holden’s term that Local 1278 was dissolved into independent locals. Holden gained a deserved measure of fame by his authorship of a series of constitutional amendments and resolutions at AFT national conventions.
Local 370 and the district’s teachers benefited from the outstanding leadership of such presidents as Stan Bartnick, Fran Slowiczek, and Morris Jones. It was Bartnick who in 1978 brilliantly spurred and organized the first teachers’ strike in the history of the San Diego City Schools. The “strike” was a one day demonstration by hundreds of courageous AFT teachers who first picketed their own schools and then gathered to parade on the grounds and through the halls of the Administration Center. Al though expectedly condemned by the administration and the school board, the strike resulted in an immediate increase in the district’s unsatisfactory salary offer.
Later the same year SDFT collected sufficient signatures to force a collective bargaining election under the terms of the newly operational Rodda Act. The outcome was predictable. Although Local 370 gained more than three times as many votes as it had members and the San Diego Teachers Association gained fewer votes than it had members, the much larger association won the election handily. Although some may have regarded as quixotic Local 370’s audacity in forcing the election upon a reluctant giant, it did compel the association to take collective bargaining seriously and to become more like a union.
The following year, in fact, the association called its own strike and although it failed to follow legally required preliminary steps before walking out, the strike was supported, in the spirit of teacher unity by over 95% of Local 370’s members. Unfortunately, only about half of the association’s members participated. The strike, which lasted four days, ended very inconclusively. One shudders to think what might have happened had the half of the association’s members not been joined by AFT.
Since it has been the bargaining agent, the association has made only very moderate gains for the district’s teachers. SDFT, though in the unenviable position of being a non-bargaining agent local, is still able to make its voice heard. Though we cannot directly affect the course of events, we can still agitate- something the association has always acknowledged in various ways that we’re good at-illuminate, both personally and in papers of the Classroom Teacher and other communications, and generate ideas for the future. The very fact that we exist as an alternative teacher advocate keeps the pressure on.
Which brings us again to origins and performance over the years. When SDFT was organized, the SDTA was as much a company union as a company union can be. SDFT, in contrast, was an activist organization from the start. We immediately joined the central labor council and with the assistance of the council successfully lobbied, as mentioned earlier, for a change in the method of electing school board members. Also with the assistance of the council we were able to prevail upon the Board of Education to institute a board paid catastrophic medical insurance plan, the first medical plan in the district’s history and the base upon which our present generally satisfactory medical plan was built.
Like other AFT locals, we began prosecuting grievances when no grievance procedure existed. By 1978 a fairly decent-for the times-grievance procedure was already in place. Before and during the Winton Act period we managed to get protective language for teachers incorporated into the district’s administrative Procedures and Regulations. Of course, an advocacy organization must “police” any agreement it extracts from an employer and sometimes that means you have to go to court to make the employer live up to his agreement. This was signally true in the famous Adcock case in which ultimately the State Supreme Court ruled in a 6-1 decision that the district has indeed “arbitrarily and capriciously” transferred Adcock for his exercise of freedom of speech and ordered him reassigned to his original position (the association, by the way, remained officially “neutral” on the merits of the Adcock transfer).
Politically, leaders and members of SDFT have always been intensely active. It was SDFT which took the lead in San Diego County in rallying opposition to the Assemblyman Louis Francis’ Anti-Communist Constitutional Amendment, which would have particularly adversely affected teachers. The association, sadly, remained silent on this dangerous, McCarthyite proposal until just before the election (interestingly, the then president of CTA was a leading supporter of the amendment). Fortunately, the voters rejected it at the polls.
Over the years SDFT has regularly made presentations before the Board of Education. For many years, we were the only organization to picket Board of Education meetings on various issues of critical importance to teachers. For example, when the Board met to discuss instituting a merit pay plan, they were greeted by scores of AFT members waving picket signs and wearing oversize buttons proclaiming “I Am Meritorious.” Dick Martin then delivered a searing criticism of the plan, which was subsequently dropped. The association then still believed that picketing by teachers was undignified and-remember the aspersion-”unprofessional.” Well, they’ve improved slowly, gradually, reluctantly over the years, but….
Now, more than thirty years after the formation of AFT in San Diego, after the expenditure of so much time which, it should be noted, also sometimes wore out administrators and made them more amenable to teacher demands), energy (often to the point of exhaustion and endangered health), and money (often personal funds) but still occupying a minority position, what is our reaction? It is one of quiet pride and satisfaction in what we have accomplished for teachers despite our continuous minority position. Our present contract is just as much the result of our efforts and sacrifices over the years as it is the association’s. As a result of SDFT activism, the elements of San Diego’s contract were already in place before SDTA won the election and bargained the first contract.
We close with the expression of the conviction that our continuing presence is necessary if the gains of the past are to be preserved and more achieved in the future.
(Dick Martin, contributor)