United Teachers of Oakland, Local 771


Chartered 1943

The Oakland local had its beginnings in the Bay Cities Federation of Teachers, local 349, AFT, AFL, chartered in 1934. Since that time the local has had numerous name changes including the Oakland/Alameda County Federation of Teachers, the Oakland Federation of Teachers, and its present title of the United Teachers of Oakland.

Local 771 received its charter on May 3, 1943. The President was Ed Cone, a committed teacher unionist who returned from retirement in 1976 to serve as the first Grievance Vice President of the newly formed United Teachers of Oakland. In addition to Ed Cone, the Oakland teachers who served as president of Local 771 over the years included Ed Ross, Ralph Steinhaus,  Edward “Pete” Lee, Bob Hudson, Elman Bargfrede, Ron Miller, Maurice Besse, Tom Roland, Garlton Garske, Elizabeth Jay, Miles Myers, Eugene Horwitz, Dave Creque, Walt Swift, Barbara Bissell, and Al Rossi, the current President.

The Oakland local has a proud history of activity around social, educational, and professional issues.  Ranging from opposition to the Viet Nam war, support for the Farmworkers Union, and active participation in the Bay Area Civil Rights Movement in the sixties and seventies to issues of restructuring and teacher professionalism in the eighties, local 771 has always been quick to pick up the cutting issues of the period. The Oakland local has won some landmark cases in its history of teacher advocacy. The Stokes case, for example, involved the straightforward concept that a school board had to follow its own rules, a ruling that provided a state-wide precedent.

In the early years AFT leaders in Oakland had to fight for recognition against a school administration and a local association that had little interest in teacher rights. From that beginning local Oakland AFTers had a sense of what a teaching profession that was worth fighting for should look like. Their vision was of a labor-affiliated teacher organization that could bring together both classified and certificated employees around their mutual interests with the power of organized labor behind them. But, it was also a concept of a union that had professional goals and a strong commitment to providing quality education to Oakland’s students. These were leaders who saw that the role of teachers should include site and district leadership and should be accorded professional pay and status.

In 1946 the local supported workers during the general strike centered on the downtown Oakland shopping area. The local’s major concerns at that time were salaries, pensions, duty free lunch periods free towels for students in P.E. classes, coaching stipends, the length of the school day, teacher rights and academic freedom, school discipline, desegregation, the election of school board candidates concerned with the classroom, and the involvement of the public in decision making. (The local advocated night board meetings and the district eventually adopted such a policy.) Most of these issues remain important and unresolved regardless of the passage of more than 40 years.

In the late sixties, the local joined with community groups in protesting the selection of a new superintendent. The opposition culminated in a sit-in during a school board meeting. NAACP representatives and Local 771. President Dave Creque ended up in a melee with the police. After billy clubs and brief cases finished flying, Creque and the NAACP leaders found themselves under arrest charged with anarchy, trespass, and a variety of other charges. The defendants, known as the Oakland Five, ultimately agreed to a plea of Nolo Contendere for the crime of standing in the aisle at a public meeting. The upshot of the controversy, however, was the hiring of Marcus Foster, widely considered the best superintendent that Oakland has had.

Local 771 has also provided the longest running student scholarship in the district. The Allara-Payton-Rosen-Cooperrider Scholarship has provided Oakland students with $500 scholar- ships since the late fifties. The scholarship is awarded to the students who show academic excellence and financial need, and who intend to pursue a career in education or some other form of public service.

In 1976 the United Teachers of Oakland (UTO) was formed out of a merger between the Oakland Federation of Teachers (OFT) and the Teachers Association of Oakland (TAO). The merger brought together leaders from both the Oakland Education Association (OEA) (Marge Beach, a former president of the OEA; Sally Eskew, Jim Welsh, and others) and the OFT (Barbara Bissell, Walt Swift , Miles Myers, Al Rossi, Bill Winston, and others) to form an organization that stood for merger, labor affiliation, and collective bargaining. Stan Kistner, another former OEA president also joined UTO at that time. Although UTO has not yet succeeded in winning the right to represent all Oakland teachers in bargaining, the mix of ideas that set the groundwork for UTO continues to inform its activities and goals.

UTO went on to represent two bargaining units for the next decade: the adult education hourly teachers and paraprofessionals in the child development centers. UTO contracts have consistently ranked at the top among similar bargaining units. Throughout the period UTO bargaining team shave worked closely with the Central Labor Council of Alameda County, AFL-CIO. UTO’s delegates on the council include Dave Creque who is on the Council’s Executive Committee, and Lanny Holm and Linton Byington who have been CLC delegates for UTO for more than a decade.

Local 771 has never lacked for quality in leadership over the years. Grievance Vice Presidents for UTO have helped, both certificated and classified employees in and out of the units that were officially represented by UTO. Among the grievance officers that have served UTO were: Dave Creque, Mike Bradley, Ed Cone, June Brumer, Felice York, and Kathie Rossi. The current Grievance Vice President is Jennifer Block, an adult ed teacher formerly the executive vice president for the adult ed chapter of UTO.

Over the last decade two Oakland teachers have served the local as treasurer: Steve Johnson and Doris Vicker, the current treasurer. UTO’s organizing effort has been coordinated by hard working teachers who have somehow found the time at the end of the school day to put together phone trees and run work parties. The original Organizing Vice Presidents for UTO were Sally Eskew (TAO) and Al Rossi (OFI). Since then they have included Lorrie Baker and Susie Myers. The present organizing officer is Carol Squicci. Other UTO vice presidents have included: Lanny Holm, Rachel Stem (well known for her workshops on the Holocaust and Women’s Rights), Carolyn Rising, Rachel Bartlett-Preston, and Grace Morizawa. Valerie Messer has served as Membership Secretary, and Shirley Haynes represents CFT on a joint AFT-CSEA state-wide committee on safety in the schools.

UTO’s organizing vice presidents have been responsible for organizing committees that have provided the phone contact between UTO and its building reps. The Area Officers on those committees have included Debbie San Juan, Sylvia Parker, Grace Morizawa, Lorrie Baker, Jean Roberson, and Jon Kramer.

(David Creque, Al Rossi, contributors)