Watch the final installment in CFT’s four part series,
celebrating our 100 year anniversary! From Proposition 30 to the
historic UTLA strike, the CFT fights for the future of public
education in California.
Editor’s note: California Teacher published this article in 2015, 40 years after K-14 teachers and classified staff won collective bargaining rights in California.
By Elaine Johnson
On May 20, 1976, I cast the first vote for teachers’ collective bargaining in the state of California. TV cameras recorded the event at Redwood High School in Larkspur, and in those pre-DVR times, the family watched it that evening on the 6 o’clock news.
Editor’s note:This essay was
presented to CFT Convention on March 9, 2002. Because of
Raoul Teilhet’s Parkinson’s disease, it was read by then-Vice
President Greg Camacho-Light, a drama teacher from the Gilroy
Federation of Teachers and Paraprofessionals. Gov. Gray Davis
attended convention that day and officially named it Raoul
On May 16, 1918, J.P. Utter wrote to the president of the AFT to
remind him that a year earlier Utter had asked about chartering a
local. In that year, the Vallejo teachers had organized 57 of 58
teachers and principals, had elected two officers, created a
salary committee that delivered a raise, demanded and won 12
monthly paychecks, and had created a temporary organization.
Utter enclosed $10 for the charter fee.
Hundreds of delegates to the CFT Convention celebrated the 100th
Anniversary of their union at a hotel of nearly the same age, the
historic Millennium Biltmore in downtown Los Angeles.
During general sessions, delegates watched a series of videos
chronicling the CFT’s history of activism. Outside the ballroom
doors, they could view a wide range of exhibits in the CFT Hall
This past weekend over 600 delegates and guests gathered at the
historic Millennium Biltmore hotel in downtown Los Angeles to
take part in the 2019 CFT Convention. Throughout the weekend we
celebrated CFT’s 100 year anniversary, recognizing the incredible
activism, dedication, and success of generations of educators and
classified professionals who worked tirelessly over a century for
our students, our schools, and our professions.
The CFT turns 100 on May 31, 2019. To kick off this anniversary year, California Teacher digs into the archives to present a commemorative issue about the rich history of our statewide federation of unions. The big events — legislation, elections, social trends — described here affected every member. But this capsule history cannot possibly relate the profound impact almost 100 years of activism had on thousands of individual education workers.
At this pivotal moment in our history, we can look back with
pride while looking forward with a tempered sense of confidence.
Knowing what our union has overcome in its first century, we will
face the coming challenges and emerge a stronger union.
Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the CFT. Previous
generations of educators won the right to due process and
collective bargaining. They built the foundation that led to
decent compensation, healthcare and retirement benefits, and much
What retirees have that unions need — knowledge, experience and
memories — are concentrated in the Council of Retired Members,
the newest division of CFT. Convention delegates in 2014
overwhelmingly voted to add the council to the union’s governance
structure so retirees could contribute in the same way as working
teachers and classified employees.
Formed in 1971, the Community College Council gave a voice to the
growing numbers of CFT college faculty. Los Angeles history
teacher Hy Weintraub, president of the council for much of the
decade, brought a coherent statewide identity to the group.
When the AFT in 1977 welcomed educational workers other than
teachers into its ranks, paraprofessionals and classified
employees became one of the fastest growing sectors of the
national AFT. In the 1980s, several thousand California support
staff voted for the AFT as their bargaining agent.
The CFT originally formed as a union of K-12 teachers. As other
education workers joined, the membership of CFT diversified.
Because the CFT had a working group of teachers — called the
QuEST Council — which dealt with curriculum and policy issues,
and reviewed current legislation, there was little pressure for a
separate K-12 council.
638 dependents awarded $1.76 million
In the mid 1990s, leaders of the Greater Santa Cruz Federation of
Teachers decided the CFT, a union of educators, should offer the
children of its members scholarships to achieve their higher
The committed activists who formed the California State
Federation of Teachers in 1919 recognized from the beginning the
need for communications among their far-flung members. From
rudimentary origins, the California Teacher grew in
every way and has been published in print for 70 years.
In a crowded field of 17 propositions on the statewide ballot
November 8, voters clearly saw the value of publicly funded
education and passed CFT’s top priority, Proposition 55,
with an impressive 24-point margin.
Working with coalition partners, the union helps reach millions
Voters in California sent a powerful message on Election Day,
passing Proposition 30 which raised income taxes on top earners
to support public education — the first major tax increase since
passage of the revenue-cutting Proposition 13 almost 35 years
Nearly nine in ten CFT members, 87 percent, voted for Prop. 30,
the merger of CFT’s Millionaires Tax and Gov. Brown’s original
initiative, according to a post-election poll commissioned by the
California Labor Federation.
The members and leaders of CFT see that California’s education
system, and our jobs, are placed at grave risk by a faltering
economy, chronic late state budgets, and a paralyzed political
process. On November 2, the rest of California agreed with us.
Voters passed Proposition 25, changing state budget approval to a
majority, ending the tyranny of a two-thirds vote and the
partisan groups that benefit from a revenue-starved government.
In the CFT-organized March for California’s Future, six “core
marchers” walked 365 miles from Bakersfield to Sacramento over
the course of 48 days. Putting their lives on hold, they braved
the elements, sleeping in churches, schools, and RV parks.
Throughout California’s great Central Valley — home to people who
work the fields as well as legislators elected in small towns who
demand budget cuts and oppose tax increases — the marchers talked
to people and listened to personal stories of economic hardship.