California teachers and classified employees want nothing more
than to be back in our physical classrooms and school sites and
know first-hand there is no equal substitute to regular,
California’s schools are the heart of their communities. For many
of our most vulnerable and underserved populations, they are
lifelines. The educational, social and emotional needs of
California’s students, particularly those who often lack the
technological and additional education support to sustain
distance learning, are of paramount concern.
On January 14, the
California Department of Public Health released several
important resources related to the state’s K-12 schools and
COVID-19. Our summary below is meant to guide members and local
unions through the new materials, especially the changes and most
critical elements. The governor and the CDPH are still developing
additional resources, so watch for updates about the plan in
the coming weeks.
On December 21, Congress passed a long-anticipated additional
round of COVID relief legislation as part of
the Bipartisan-Bicameral Omnibus COVID Relief
Deal. The legislative package — the result of
last-minute frantic negotiations — provides more much-needed
relief to individuals, education, hospitals and businesses
in response to the economic distress caused by the coronavirus
As I reflect upon the year that is reaching its end, the shock of
all we have endured these past many months hits me anew. When we
started this year, I felt hopeful with many opportunities for
success and change.
On November 3, voters went to the polls to turn things around in
our country and in our state. Or rather, many went to the polls,
but many more had already cast mail ballots in the days and weeks
leading up to the election, a sign of the times during a year of
“stay at home” orders.
The week after Thanksgiving, Mariah Fisher, president of the Novato Federation of Teachers and a middle school drama teacher, said she was ready to go back to in-person teaching, starting that week. She had marked off six feet of space between all the desks and she was preparing to teach acting to students wearing masks.
El Camino College has been slowly resuming activity. Nursing, auto repair, construction and other “essential classes” returned to the Torrance campus in late September, along with scores of custodians, groundkeepers, computer techs and facilities staff.
Returning to normal is another matter. Administrators are trying to eliminate the night shift, even though “graveyard” is typically the busiest time for custodians. Meanwhile, four COVID cases on campus have underlined the pandemic’s ongoing threat, as well as the importance of properly trained and equipped cleaning crews.
Workers’ Comp classifies on-the-job COVID cases as occupational injuries
Senate Bill 1159 (Hill, D-San Mateo) directs the state Workers’ Compensation system to presume that an employee’s COVID-related illness is an occupational injury and therefore the worker eligible for Workers’ Comp benefits if specific criteria are met.
The polls closed in Hawaii, the westernmost voting site in the
United States, at 1 am eastern time on November 4. At 2:28, less
than two hours later, President Trump sent out a tweet announcing
that he’d won the election.
Millions of votes had yet to be counted, especially those cast by
people voting early because of the coronavirus. But Trump
demanded that counting stop, and made false charges of election
rigging. He immediately filed suits in Pennsylvania, Michigan and
Georgia to stop the count.
In spite of the pandemic, a number of local unions won big gains
for adjuncts, from parity pay to distance education, to the
preservation of healthcare for adjuncts with reduced loads. These
wins are especially significant at this time in which revenues
are falling and concerns over future budgets made many
administrators skittish to bargain.
Just as the COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted public education,
so too did it impact the California Legislature and CFT’s
What would normally have been a rigorous six-month period to
discuss the state budget and legislation, was reduced to two
virtual sessions, one running from May 4 to June 19, and the
other from July 27 to August 31. This forced the Legislature,
which was slated to hear and discuss some 2,390 bills, to shelve
consideration of any bills not deemed related to the pandemic,
wildfires, and affordable housing.
By Geoff Johnson, AFT Guild, San Diego and Grossmont-Cuyamaca
Higher education in America is sick. Its classrooms and campuses
have been largely shuttered, save but for students taking lab
courses, or practicums, ironically in hospitals. Students and
instructors are now confined to the domains of their computers
and laptop screens in the educational netherworlds of Zoom or
Cranium. With the exception of online instruction developed prior
to the crisis, what is being delivered, more so than taught, is a
curriculum of coping under the duress of the coronavirus
On September 17, Governor Newsom signed
SB 1159 (Hill, D-San Mateo), which directs the Workers’
Compensation system to presume that an employee’s illness related
to coronavirus is an occupational injury and therefore eligible
for Workers’ Compensation benefits if specified criteria are met.
The bill creates a “rebuttable presumption” for healthcare
workers, first responders, or workers on any worksite that has an
outbreak of COVID-19.
What a year it has been. In March, as the coronavirus hit and
“shelter in place” orders were issued, CFT leaders immediately
started communicating with members about the situation. We held
online meetings, shared resources on our website, and hosted a
CFT Member Townhall that 11,000 members joined.
August 31 marked the end of an unprecedented two-year legislative session, one in which the number of bills heard was pared down because of the COVID-19 pandemic and all hearings were held online.
Governor Newsom had until September 30 to sign or veto those bills that made it to his desk. Below is a summary of several CFT priority bills that the governor has either signed or are on his desk awaiting his action. Bills without an emergency clause and signed into law will take effect on January 1, 2021.
Facing the threats of COVID-19 and wildfires, local unions and districts across California are trying to figure out how school will look this semester.
• • •
Orange County was one of the first to push for in-person instruction after it had been prohibited based on the county monitoring list. At the beginning of the summer, the members in the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers were pretty much evenly divided about that.
Contingent teaching faculty and librarians at the University of
California recently voted to create three new working groups to
combat racism and support each other with mutual aid. With the
firm conviction that Black Lives Matter, UC-AFT members aim to
align our union’s efforts with those of activists fighting for
racial justice nationwide.
Every senior has a long personal view of U.S. history, but nearly all would agree that this presidential election will be the most important ballot they cast in their lives. The prospect of Donald Trump in the White House for four more years has ratcheted up emotions.
The framework and rules guiding California’s gradual emergence
from state-mandated closures were revised by Governor Newsom on
August 28. The so-called “Blueprint for a Safer
Economy” uses a color-coded system with four tiers, into
which each county is assigned.
While the governor addressed some of the demands that the union
articulated to him and state leaders
in the CFT letter sent on Monday, CFT still believes that
there is more to be done to ensure the safety of California’s
teachers, school staff, students, and communities.
The California Community Colleges organized a high-level
task force to create a roadmap of available resources for
the safe reopening of community college campuses.
The task force report contains considerations and recommendations
for the Chancellor’s Office. However, the broad recommendation of
of the Safe Campus Reopening
Workgroupis that further
action be undertaken locally by subject matter experts. This
includes labor partners such as AFT local unions as well as
state, federal and local governments, medical professionals, and
those directly managing the pandemic response.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools and colleges across California were shuttered to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. Staff remaining on campus performed the challenging duties of distance learning support, meal preparation and pick-up, and deep cleaning to maintain educational services during shelter-in-place orders, as well as prepare for eventual physical reopening.
In the union’s document, Checklist for Safely Reopening Schools & Colleges,the CFT does not encourage the physical reopening of school sites until it is safe to do so. At a minimum, the CFT recommends coordination with state and local public health guidelines on every checklist item in this document to help prevent further spread of the coronavirus.
As we navigate the global COVID-19 pandemic, Californians are
experiencing crises that reach far beyond the immediate public
and personal health emergencies. The poorest Californians,
disproportionately people of color in the service, hospitality,
and healthcare sectors, have either lost their jobs, resulting in
a spike to unemployment unlike anything we have seen in our
lifetimes, or are risking their health performing essential
The COVID-19 crisis and subsequent economic collapse along with
the national uprising against police brutality and systemic
racism have cast a glaring light on the nature of American
inequality on the healthcare, criminal justice, and economic
fronts. It has never been clearer that as most Americans
struggle, the elite thrive.
For days, hundreds of thousands of people have filled the streets of 160 cities across the country, even during the coronavirus pandemic, expressing their outrage and grief at the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Two Black leaders of the CFT, with long histories of fighting for racial equity, say they could not help being profoundly moved by the murder itself, and the outpouring of rage in response.
COVID-19 is triggering state and local budget crises across the
nation. State and local governments are incurring huge new costs
as they seek to contain and treat the coronavirus and respond to
the virus-induced spike in joblessness and related human needs.
At the same time, they are projecting sharply lower tax revenues
due to the widespread collapse of economic activity brought about
by efforts to contain the virus’ spread.
Leslie Hu, a social worker at San Francisco’s Martin Luther King
Jr. Middle School, thinks that during a global pandemic, when
many students are seeing their communities directly affected,
isn’t the time for business as usual.
By Katharine Harer, San Mateo Community College Federation of
Teachers, AFT Local 1493
You’re teaching all your classes online, providing support to
freaked-out students and dealing with a flood of emails every
day, while at the same time, and often in the same room, hour
after hour, your children need you to be present and available.
You can’t send them to school or childcare or to the grandparents
or to play at their friends’ houses. You can’t send them
anywhere. Will lack of sleep, personal space and time make you
trip and fall, and if so, who will catch you?
By Mark James Miller, Part-Time Faculty Association of Allan
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought its own unique challenges to
every facet of society. Everyone has been seriously impacted by
the virus, and students in higher education are no exception.
Nationwide, students are delaying their education until the
pandemic is over and colleges return to the traditional classroom
approach instead of the online model being used in its place.
Some are simply uncomfortable with online learning, and others
are fearful that the education they receive remotely is not of
the same quality as what they get in the classroom with the
By Josh Brahinsky and Roxi Power, UC-AFT Santa Cruz
When graduate-student workers at the University of California at Santa Cruz voted overwhelmingly in December to reject their statewide union contract and follow the West Virginia teachers’ model of a wildcat strike, the precarious lives of academic workers became a news story once again.
Governor Newsom released the May Revision to the 2020-21 state budget on May 14. California began 2020 with a solid fiscal foundation. As the proposal notes, the state started the year with a “strong and diverse economy, historic reserves, and a structurally balanced budget.
The state had eliminated past budgetary debts and deferrals and was making extraordinary payments to reduce pension liabilities. In January, a budget surplus of $5.6 billion was projected for the 2020-21 fiscal year. Revenues through March were running $1.35 billion above projections.
In my communications with CFT members about school closures and
sheltering in place during the past two months, I have often
signed off, “Stay safe and take care.” For me, that is more than
a convenient turn of phrase.
As we enter into the third month of the COVID-19 pandemic,
we are in the midst of a crisis unlike anything most of us have
experienced in our lifetimes, and when this story is retold years
from now, I have no doubt it will be recorded as a turning point
in history. I know most of you are, like me, tired, stressed, and
Since schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and instruction moved online, Jessica Hoffschneider, a resource special education teacher at Soquel High, has been busy. A site representative for the Greater Santa Cruz Federation of Teachers, she spends her days trying her best to help her students with mild to moderate disabilities.
Computer geeks have been on the front lines of online learning since March, when school and college districts across urban and rural California closed to avoid the COVID-19 pandemic. Tech staff are the essential employees who are turning digital classrooms from a pipedream into a working educational system.
Palomar College child development teacher Barbara Hammons definitely found the idea of distance teaching a challenge. For years, she and her department chair had a running joke – if she ever wanted to get rid of her, no need to fire her, just give her an online class.
It is 12 noon on Friday and the California Alliance of Retired Americans is ready to Zoom. Scores of CARA members from San Diego to San Francisco are gathered around home computers, ready for the next best thing to an in-person meeting.
By Susan Morgan, President, AFT Local 1931 Retiree
As a retiree chapter, one of our current challenges is to find
new ways to stay connected, be supportive, and sustain our esprit
de corps. The current pandemic has increased challenges for
retirees, many of whom were already dealing with the social
challenges of isolation and loneliness. These newly heightened
mental health concerns are real, and our task is to find
meaningful ways to connect with our members to support our common
union values and goals.
By Arti O’Connor, President, Gilroy Federation of
Diana Torres, a paraeducator in the Gilroy Unified School
District, has been instrumental in establishing the STEAM lab and
program at Las Animas Elementary School. I met her several months
ago and was extremely impressed when she showed me the lab — with
a 3-D printer — that she uses to teach students about that form
The governor and the Legislature know the COVID-19 pandemic has
blown a huge hole in the state budget, but they can’t easily
project state revenues or the impact on Proposition 98 — the
mechanism that provides K-12 schools and community colleges about
40 percent of the state’s General Fund.
By Jessica Silver-Sharp, San Mateo Community College
Federation of Teachers
When I first wrote about undocumented students in October 2017, I
couldn’t have foreseen how things could change so much in less
than three years. Two out of three of our campus Dream Centers in
the San Mateo Community College District were established during
this time when young “Dreamers” were forming a national youth
movement and “coming out” across the country. Then, a majority of
the hundreds of undocumented students on campus enjoyed legal
protections under DACA.
By Dennis Cox, Southern Vice President, Council of Retired
AFT retirees have contributed so much to American education,
and are in line for well-deserved gratitude from their students,
colleagues and communities. You warrant a heartfelt thanks for
what you have done, and for staying home and keeping yourselves
safe during this outbreak. You are extremely valuable citizens.
So, thank you to all who have served, and are now staying safely
sheltered in your homes! Please continue to do all you can to
The CFT held its first online State Council on May 2. In what may
be the highest attendance in recent years, about 140
representatives from local unions tuned in on a Saturday
afternoon for the well-managed three-hour Zoom meeting that
allowed delegates to vote on numerous policy issues before the
The AFT on April 30 released a detailed road map that, in
the absence of a COVID-19 vaccine, charts a path to safely and
responsibly reopen school buildings and other institutions
crucial to the well-being and economic vitality of our
The 20-page, science-based “Plan
to Safely Reopen America’s Schools and
Communities” sprung from an intense collaboration
of public health professionals, union
leaders and frontline workers to prepare for
what happens next in the period between flattening the curve
and truly eradicating the virus.
By Mark James Miller, Part-Time Faculty Association of Allan
“I miss the face-to-face contact.”
“Something is missing.”
“I miss being with my students.”
As Hancock College’s part-time instructors adapt to the “new
normal” brought on by the coronavirus, one theme is constant:
With all classes now being taught remotely, they miss being in
the classroom with their students.
The ongoing COVID-19 experience for part-time instructors has demonstrated their great collective strength and resiliency, despite limited pay, benefits, job security, and often minimal support.
Several local union leaders — who are part-time faculty — report that beyond the initially hectic and at times frenzied process of transitioning to remote instruction and services, faculty have more or less still been able to teach a semblance of their face-to-face course.
Within the span of just two weeks in early March, California Community Colleges, along with the rest of American higher education, were forced into the perhaps the largest and most radical pedagogical shift in its history.
In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, part-time faculty — beyond
dealing with protecting the health and safety of themselves and
their families — are facing threats to their economic security,
including loss of income, access to health insurance, and their
capacity to pay for housing and utilities.
It is essential part-timer faculty are aware of recent actions
taken by the federal government and state of California to
provide relief for people facing these challenges.