State Center Federation of Teachers, Local 1533
Today recognized as a stable, innovative, responsible, and thriving AFT local, Local 1533 was born out of a statewide turmoil over the free speech rights battle of Jack Owens, a teacher in the Lassen County junior college system. Owens’ letters criticizing the local education system were published in a Lassen County newspaper, and he was fired by his school board. A tenured teacher, Owens demanded a Superior Court hearing. Instead of defending its member, the California Teachers Association justified the local superintendent’s and school board’s action by insisting Owens had betrayed their (CTA’s) highly arbitrary Code of Ethics.
Against these powers, Owens fought his case, exhausting his funds, losing a lower court battle and finally, in 1962, winning his case (against his own union!) in an overturn ruling by the 3rdDistrict Court of Appeals. FCC teachers Dave Hendrickson, Noel Frodsham, and Franz Weinshenck met on October 30, 1962 in Manchester School (City College was part of the unified district at the time) with CTA state president James Williamson. The FCC teachers carried a demand from their faculty club, whose members urged the Fresno Teachers Association to censure CTA for its behavior in the case. Three fiery debates, with Owens facing his accusers in an open forum for the first time since the 1958 firings, ensued. Ultimately the FTA Council declined to censure the CTA, but the CTA’s claim on the loyalties of Fresno area teachers, especially those at FCC, had been considerably weakened.
Hendrickson, Frodsham, Weinshenck and the others had made their point, and amidst the storm of the Owens case, Local 1533, affiliated with the AFT and the California Federation of Teachers, was born with ten charter members. Its official charter was dated 1964.
Though from the onset Local 1533 enjoyed high regard among faculty interested in the fight for teachers’ rights, its membership growth was slow. But the success of the local was inevitable, given the quality of early members like Hendrickson, Frodsham, Carl Waddle, Yolanda Statham, Maurice Van Gerpen, Robert Merz and others who impressed their faculty colleagues with their understanding of the issues of most importance to teachers and by the energy with which they pursued teachers’ rights in the days before state law provided teachers’ union organizers with much power or protection. These were founders who were active in all aspects of professionalism at (then) SCJCD, serving in senate, grievance hearings, and salary negotiations committees.
Many early members of the Local asked that their names be kept a secret, and it is a tribute to the courage of the earlier organizers of the local, teachers like Maurice Fitzpatrick and Bill Reynolds, that they would risk earning the displeasure of their “superiors” by openly admitting their membership and fighting for their rights. Perhaps the fears of the “anonymous” members were not entirely unfounded. As late as 1964, instructors at College of the Sequoias were threatened with firing because they had joined AFT.
The pages of The Federalist from 1964 through 1977, when membership was less than half that of the CTA local, resound with the eloquent writing of Local 1533 members like Terry Scambray, Gerry Stokle, Jim Piper, Charles Lynes, Carl Waddle, Mary McFarland and others on a range of topics from freedom of speech and censorship to class size and fair pay and benefits. Throughout those years The Federalist developed into the voice of faculty concerns. From 1964 until now, one can find articles and letters to The Federalist from more than two hundred teachers (many of them CTA members) and comments and notes from many more. When the Board or administration failed to disseminate vital information to the faculty, AFT Local 1533 did, often to the discomfort of authorities bent on hiding administrative practices from the faculty.
It is interesting to note that the local was always eager to help teachers in their professional struggles. In 1970-71, for instance, one finds the local supporting Joan Newcomb (long-time AFT member and 1988 winner of the Hayward Award for teaching excellence and leadership) in her formal grievance procedure against unfair working conditions in the district. The records show the bill for legal costs of this case came to $85.00. Given the local’s average case-by-case expenses in support of dozens of teachers’ grievances in the last twelve years, that doesn’t seem like much, but for the still-young local it was a large sum.
With all this service to the faculty, it is not surprising that when the collective bargaining election came in 1977, the faculty of the district voted overwhelming for AFT’s Local 1533. At the time of the election there were 214 certificated employees in the (then) SCJCD, and 140 were CTA members.
On May 12th, 1977, when AFT Local 1533 President Don Wren filed his petition for the local to be designated exclusive representative for the full-time staff, he turned in the names of 59% of the full-time teachers in the district. Many CTA members wanted CFT to represent them in the tough negotiating battles ahead.
In the subsequent election, the AFT won over sixty-seven percent of the vote. The hard work and dedication of the early members of the local had paid off. Now the hard work of negotiating contracts with a recalcitrant board and administration began. In the next few years Local 1533 presidents and negotiators like Jim Ruston and Harold Sadler would face the task of establishing the union as a powerful and professional defender of teachers’ rights both in and out of collective bargaining sessions.
The first post-Rodda Act president was Don Wren, who was instrumental in building the Union in the transitional years before and after collective bargaining. The first negotiating team included Jim Ruston, Celia Maldonado, Tom Keefe, and Jim Phillips (who has served on every subsequent team). The highlight of our first contract was being one of the first districts in the state to get binding arbitration of grievances.
In 1978, after Proposition 13 passed, the District sent lay-off notices to over seventy tenured employees. These faculty members were represented by Federation attorneys in lengthy lay-off hearings, which resulted in all of the teachers’ jobs being saved. Not so coincidentally, Federation membership rose by nearly 20%, as grateful faculty saw the value and the need for Union representation.
The late seventies and early eighties were marked by strong adversarial relations between the Federation and an anti-collective bargaining Board of Trustees. Picketing, board meeting demonstrations, and fact finding were common occurrences during marathon negotiation periods. Fiery Federation President Harold Sadler was an unrelenting activist on behalf of faculty, and John Peterson, Loren Gaither, Wren, Phillips, Maurice Van Gerpen, and Tom Tyner, along with Sadler, became year-around negotiators. Sadler was succeeded as President by Van Gerpen, who, with skill and integrity, led the Federation and faculty through times of double-digit inflation and continuing anti-union Board sentiment.
1984 marked a turning point in Union-District relations as the Federation, led by President Tom Tyner and the Executive Council, launched an all-out campaign to change the make-up of the Board of Trustees. Supporting excellent trustee candidates Warren Kessler and Willie Smith, the Federation raised over $20,000 in campaign money and ran a highly sophisticated direct mail campaign, which resulted in victories for Kessler and Smith and the ouster of two prominent anti-collective bargaining board members. It was the biggest political victory in the history of the Federation and precipitated the gradual positive changes in relations among faculty, management, and the board which are continuing to this day.
The last four years have been good ones for the Federation. With inflation slowed, faculty are finally enjoying some negotiated salary gains beyond the cost of living. Local 1533 has become an acknowledged state leader in negotiating excellent retirement plans, including District-paid benefits, for retiring employees. Federation-supported candidates have continued to be elected to the Board of Trustees, and thirty new faculty members have joined Local 1533 in the last two years. The Federation also the first local in the state to cosponsor educational workshops with district, providing “Writing Across the Curriculum,” “Reading Across the Curriculum,” and “Critical Thinking” workshops in the last three years. Finally, new leadership in the Federation has emerged in the past few years, with members like Paul Kaser, Richard Valencia, Linda Albright, Allen Beck, Ed Perkins, Art Arnaro, Tanya Liscano, and Jim Studebaker serving the faculty tirelessly and well. And the “old guard” like Wren, Phillips, and Van Gerpen continue their involvement, setting high standards of dedication, perseverance, and selflessness, and providing a continuity that has helped Local 1533 work effectively for State Center faculty for thirteen years. They have earned a special place in our history and in our hearts.
(Tom Tyner, Paul Kaser, contributors)