San Jose Federation of Teachers, Local 957
The Early Years: 1947-1972
The founding President of Local 957, Robert Doerr, who later became Mayor of San Jose, said, “We formed the San Jose Teachers’ Union and affiliated with the AFL because we believe that the teacher is one of the most highly productive of workers, and that the best interests of the schools and of the people demand an intimate contact in an effective cooperation between the teachers and other workers of the community upon whom the future of democracy must depend.”
AFT Local 957 was chartered January 29, 1947 as the San Jose Teachers’ Union. (Little is known of an earlier San Jose Local 153 chartered in 1920.) Local 957 was a catalyst of teacher unionism in Santa Clara Valley and a presence in the Labor Movement. It attracted teachers from throughout the area and later became the Santa Clara County Federation of Teachers. Eventually, AFT Locals were begun at San Jose State (now representing the Academic Support Staff), Gilroy (instructional aides), and Mitty High School (faculty), among others.
Local 957 members were important in the Central Labor Council. Hamil Wagnon was an officer and Education Chair and authored a column in The Union Gazette. George Miller was elected to the Central Labor Council Executive Board with Wagnon in 1952. Charles Womack was elected Warden in 1958. Ray D’Artenay was elected to Central Labor Council Board in 1961 and became Education Chair. Vic Ulmer was on the Board from 1965-1973. Continuing the tradition, Mike Nye was elected to the Central Labor Council Board in 1974, became a Central Labor Council Trustee and Chair of the Public Employee Committee in 1975, and Central Labor Council Business Manager from 1977-81. Carol Webb has been Recording Secretary since 1983.
Local 957 influenced the Central Labor Council to support tax and bond elections for the schools in the post-war era. It also helped support a labor radio program. With no collective bargaining for public employees, Local 957 looked to the Central Labor Council for support. Central Labor Council Business Manager Earl Moorhead was on the San Jose Unified School Board, and Henry Gunderson of the Electricians was on the San Jose Unified and San Jose City College Boards, and the State Board of Education.
Local 957 participated in many statewide and national fights for teacher rights. Dismissals at San Jose State (SJS) without regard to seniority were successfully opposed by 957, the Central Labor Council, and the State AFL. Both Local 957 and the new AFT Local at SJS opposed the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1960. The Local demanded updated pension fund reports in 1963. In 1956, the Local had to take legal action when Santa Clara USD harassed 957 Treasurer, Jess Sanchez. In 1967, 957 and the Central Labor Council supported a peace march and a resolution supporting free higher public education. In 1970, 957 fought the firing of SJS local president, Dr. Rutherford. The early 957 presidents were Robert Doerr, 1947; Jack Marsh, 1948; Mildred Moore, 1949; Ray D’Artenay, 1950; Hamil Wagnon, 1951; Torrey Smith, 1952; L. Ben Howard, 1953; Mike McGuire, 1962; and Vic Ulmer, 1963-72.
San Jose Unified: 1972 to Present
In 1972 new locals were established and the focus of 957 reverted to San Jose Unified. The name since then has been changed to the San Jose Federation of Teachers. Mike Nye became the President of 957 and served until 1976. The local fought several battles including a maternity leave suit and a struggle led by John O’Brien for teachers’ testing rights.
In 1976, Bob Beck became President of the Federation and led the fight for collective bargaining. Local 957 grew to more than 400 members and received even more votes, but it wasn’t enough.
Bill Duckwall and Susan Devencenzi ably in the following year. The newsletter was renamed The Phoenix. The humorous District Spitoon was launched. Good questions and points raised. Local 957 members kept things lively as when Don Schulz carried an AFT sign during the SJTA strike.
Unfortunately San Jose Unified was not ready for an early turning of the tide. The phoenix seed is planted, but the time line is unclear.
The Adult Education Years: 1975 to Present
In 1974-75 a district committee produced an in-depth report on the need to improve the compensation of Adult Ed teachers. Then in salary discussions CTA agreed to a 6% increase for K-12 and a 2.4% increase for Adult Ed. Adult Ed teachers were furious.
Mike Nye and Local 957 provided advice, paper, etc. An Adult Ed Chapter was formed with Forrest Nixon as chair person. Carol Adamski, Pat Regdon, Sheila Lunny, and Stella Norvelle were key founding members. The chapter began a campaign which ended in success months later when the Board granted Adult Ed hourly teachers an equal 6% increase.
In 1978 the new director of Regional Programs instituted a disastrous reorganization plan. In the course of that battle, Local 957 produced a prophetic position paper (by Kathy Eshnaur et. al.), established a reputation for reliability, and gained the support of a solid majority of Adult Ed teachers. That same year the local worked hard against Prop. 13 and then mobilized to minimize cuts to Adult Ed. It was about that time that the core group of Forrest Nixon, Carol Webb, Pat Hall, Rita Pearl, Richard Hobbs, Sheila Lunny, and Harriet Skapinsky formed. Alice Cox became Human Rights Chair and with Genie Bernardini, provided many interesting potlucks.
In 1979, Local 957 won a PERB election and recognition as bargaining agent for hourly teachers.
Susan Devencenzi gave invaluable help in the first negotiations and was acclaimed as a K-12 teacher who really understood Adult Ed. About that time Susan Hauser began her valuable service as rep. at the Voc. Center, and Sallie McCombs took the same role with the Refugee Project.
In 1980 we signed our first Adult Ed contract and helped defeat Prop. 9 Richard Hobbs brought Central America to the attention of the Executive Board, which, after study, passed one of the earliest Central America peace resolutions.
In 1983 the administration of Regional Programs was shifted to a joint powers agency. Local 957 worked to ensure a smooth transition with current employees, wages, and union contract being carried forward. Earlier that year the local successfully blocked an administration attempt to end most evening classes several weeks early.
In 1987-88 Local 957 worked for another smooth transition as East Side withdrew from the consortium and set up its own program. With CTA objecting, Local 957 was recognized as the bargaining agent. A second Executive Board group coalesced in 1987-88: Forrest Nixon, Carol Webb, Pat Hall, Rita Pearl, Chela Gonzalez, and Alice Cox (MAEP); Sallie McCombs, Pam Lewis, and April Rice (East Side); Ray Behvand and Barbara Hooper (CCOC/P); and Marjorie Meredith (retired).
Local 957 has successfully negotiated many changes and looks forward confidently to a similar future.
(Mike Nye, Forest Nixon, contributors)