Another school year has started. As an educator, August and
September have traditionally been the time when I set New Year’s
resolutions for the coming academic year. It starts me off on a
positive note to identify my goals, my priorities, and the areas
in which I want to learn and grow.
I think about our work at CFT in much the same way, and just like
when I was teaching, beginning a new school year as an
organization is not just the work of one person. Setting goals
for the CFT is not just the work of leaders or the Executive
Council. Rather it demands real-time feedback from our membership
so that we, as a statewide union, can respond to the issues
members identify as top priorities. To do that important work, we
have undertaken a number of projects to listen to members and
respond to what we have heard.
I taught high school math in a picturesque Southern California
location with a view of the Pacific Ocean. On nice days, we used
to keep the doors and windows of our classrooms open. We had no
fences around our school and there were open courtyards that
welcomed gatherings of students and staff alike. Much of
that has disappeared. Now doors and windows must remain shut on
campus and chain link fences surround the beautiful campus in
case someone shows up with a weapon of war and the intent to
As educators and classified professionals, we often mark
beginnings and ends with school years rather than calendar years.
Each May, students leave for the summer or graduate and venture
off to another stage in their lives. As these chapters open and
close, it’s hard not to think about similar times in our own
lives, when we moved on from a particularly beloved school or
classroom, and from the school staff that made our experience so
When I decided to become a teacher, I was focused on helping
students and meeting them where they are. I became a mathematics
teacher — slopes, quadratic equations, fractions, square roots
and all. But I entered into the profession because I was
interested in who my students are as people, not just in class. I
wanted to understand their hopes and dreams and help them become
the people they wanted to be.
For about three years the University Council-AFT engaged in
protracted negotiations on behalf of lecturers in their unit.
Their aims have always been about fairness — better working
conditions for lecturers and improved learning conditions for
students. Their fight has been about not only winning economic
and contractual gains for members, but gaining professional
respect and recognition for their teaching at the University of
California. Their campaign has been a true member-driven effort,
rooted in years of organizing by the statewide local that
represents both continuing lecturers and librarians, led by their
president, Mia McIver, and a committed negotiations team.
In early August, Luukia Smith, Lacy Barnes, and I ventured up and
down the state on a three week Back-to-School, Forward
Together Tour. We visited with early childhood educators,
TK-12 teachers, classified workers, adult education teachers, and
part-time community college faculty. We witnessed firsthand
students learning in-person. We saw the incredible school
communities our members have helped to build and visited campuses
and classrooms to see CFT members in action.
The last year and a half of my communications with you have told
the story of the COVID-19 pandemic, our union’s early responses
to the changes wrought by the virus, our diligence in keeping
school communities healthy and safe, and the first glimmers of
hope as vaccines became available and community spread began to
Good morning, CFT. I’m thrilled to be here with all of you—my fellow CFT leaders, all my union siblings, CFT and local union staff, and invited guests.
This year’s Convention has a lot of firsts. It is my first State of the Union speech as CFT president and my first time presiding as chair of the Convention. This is the first of our biennial conventions which we approved in 2018 through a constitutional amendment by this very body. And, this is the first-ever virtual CFT Convention. While we are making the best of the current circumstances, I sincerely hope it will be the last virtual convention.
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.
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.
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
In 2011, the CFT worked with community partners to lead the
charge for a Millionaires Tax that eventually turned into Prop 30
and was then extended by Prop 55. Those funds helped stop the
bleeding in K-14 education following the recession and drastic
funding cuts of the mid-2000s.
Now, however, there are pressures throughout our school districts
and community colleges that are preventing CFT members from
getting the pay, benefits, program funding, and staffing levels
our schools, colleges, and communities desperately need.
When CFT received the first batch of petitions to put Schools and
Communities First initiative on the ballot in late October, I
immediately ripped a box open and took out a form. I eagerly
signed the fresh new document to add my name in support of this
When I was elected CFT President in March, I said in my speech to
Convention delegates: “I believe that when we fight for
education, we also fight for social justice, racial justice,
gender equality, LGBTQ rights, and climate justice.”
To be a social justice union, we must not only consider the
complex lives of our members and the challenges they face, but
look beyond the doors of the schoolhouse to consider the ways our
campus communities intersect with our larger communities. When we
fight for labor, we must fight for our communities, too.
As the school year begins to wind down, our work ramps up. CFT is
joining other education unions to push hard to enact bills
calling for more charter school transparency and accountability,
bringing the decision-making on charter authorization exclusively
to the district level, and more ambitiously,
enacting a moratorium on all new charters. As Los Angeles
state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, the author of the moratorium bill
explains, it’s time we put a “pause” on new charters.The effort
to bring reform to charters importantly parallels the AFT Fund
Our Future campaign that is investing in education.
By all measures, this was a very successful midterm election.
Democrats picked up 40 seats in the U.S. House, which they will
now control, and more than 300 legislative seats nationwide. In
California, we ran the table on statewide officers and elected a
supermajority in both houses of our state Legislature. Most
importantly for us, Tony Thurmond was elected superintendent of
Years back, my family took a trip to Hawaii. While there, Japan
suffered a serious earthquake and we were told to prepare for a
tsunami that never materialized. Like the one on my trip, the
“blue wave” that could give Democrats a majority in the House and
possibly the Senate, might be just as illusory as our Hawaiian
experience. Unless we help make it happen.
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
This past year has been at times demoralizing, frightening,
offensive and challenging. Yet through it all shines a ray of
hope that something may be changing. In spite of all the
administration’s bombastic rhetoric, or because of it, there
seems to be broad opposition to Trump’s policies and growing
clamor for something different.
Another week, another mass shooting, more condolences from
elected officials…and nothing gets done. As of this writing, we
have had 19 shootings of some sort on campus this year, and we
are likely to have another before this article gets published.
The daily revelations of sexual misconduct by men in authority
seem like a turning point in the struggle for gender equality.
While this appears to be a sea change, we must remember that
Donald Trump’s claim he could grab women inappropriately without
their consent failed to derail his run for the White House. That,
however, may have been the opening salvo.
We learned in the final days of September that the U.S. Supreme
Court will take up another union fair share case. With the
court’s ruling coming early next year, it feels like we are on a
ship with an iceberg rapidly approaching. Fortunately, as we
prepare for an unfavorable decision in the Janus v.
AFSCME case, we had already prepared for the
similar Friedrichs v. California Teachers
The CFT completed its 75th Convention and Jeff Freitas and I were
honored to be re-elected by delegates to lead this great,
progressive union. A new Executive Council was also elected, a
diverse group of local leaders that will help guide this
organization in the difficult period ahead.
Sisters and brothers, members of the CFT. It is always great to
be at our convention, to see friends, to think about the year
gone as we prepare for the challenges ahead.
And boy do we face some tough challenges.
The election of Donald Trump jeopardizes the progressive gains of
the last 80 years. Trump also threatens, almost daily, the basic
sense of ethics, civic mindedness and fairness, valued across the
I have been hearing from CFT members who supported Donald Trump
and are not happy that the CFT is sticking its nose into
We would be looking at a much different scenario in our schools
and colleges, our communities and unions, and in Sacramento, if
the CFT had not led the way on the Millionaires Tax, which became
Proposition 30 and now Proposition 55, and before that, led the
way on Proposition 25, the Majority Budget Act.
With less than one month left in the presidential contest and the
race for the White House tightening, progressives have to make
some clear-eyed decisions about whom to support. Will they
support Hillary Clinton or will they cast a protest vote and
support Jill Stein?
There is a lot at stake in this coming November election. Not
only will we elect a president and therefore shape the Supreme
Court for years to come, but we also have a key U.S. senate race,
a vital state ballot measure to extend Proposition 30, and
important state and local legislative races.
The Grapes of Wrath written by John Steinbeck powerfully
told the story of one family’s challenge to survive the
devastation of the Great Depression of the 1930s. It’s a story
that continues to resonate eighty years later. As they begin
their journey to California, the Joad family asks Reverend Casey,
who in the film version is played brilliantly by the great
American actor John Carradine, if he would like to join them.
Four years ago we talked about the need to pass Proposition 30, a
measure that has added more than $6 billion dollars annually to
the state budget after years of devastating cuts. Now we have to
extend it. The measure for which we are gathering signatures —
The Children’s Education and Healthcare Protection Act — will
raise $5 to $11 billion a year, eliminate the sales tax increase,
and continue to ask wealthy Californians to pay a bit more in
personal income tax.
It’s time for the labor movement to remember what energized our
ranks and inspired American workers to join unions. As we face a
continued decline in membership and legal challenges that
threaten to erode the strength of public sector unions and the
movement as a whole, now more than ever, we need to take our
message to the streets.
California’s largest, oldest corporations have not been paying
their fair share for more than 35 years. As a result, the state
has lost billions of dollars in uncollected property tax revenues
— a major factor pushing our public schools to the national
bottom in per pupil spending and class size average. The state’s
most at-risk families and individuals have also seen essential
services repeatedly cut for more than a generation.
Good morning CFT members, guests and staff, I want to thank all
of you for taking time to help make the CFT a strong, vibrant and
progressive voice in the California labor movement. It is your
activism and your commitment to our union that makes this
organization such an important voice for social justice, for our
members and for our students.
Helping young people mature into adults is one of the rewards of
being an educator. Unfortunately, the political tug-of-war
enveloping public education can distract us from the special
relationships that happen in the classroom. I have been reminded
recently why I chose to become a teacher in the first place.
The CFT’s priorities in the November 4 General Election are
straightforward: Reelect Tom Torlakson Superintendent of Public
Instruction, elect Betty Yee for State Controller and pass
Propositions 45 and 47.
In the remaining weeks before the election, we need all of our
members to get involved with their local unions and their central
labor councils. We have to approach this election as if the
future of public education depends on it, because it does.
The super wealthy and their swollen circle of reactionary think
tanks and echo chamber conservative media are committed to
eradicating what remains of the labor movement and giving
corporations unlimited power over every aspect of American life.
Public education stands as an obstacle to such a corporate world
committed to keeping wealth and education in the hands of a few.
The CFT is launching a new legislative effort called Healthy
Kids, Healthy Minds to ensure that all of California’s K-12
schools have a nurse and mental health professional, and a
credentialed librarian in an open library during and after
The CFT’s emerging campaign for quality public education
underscores the fundamental problem we face in this country — the
lack of a powerful social movement for economic, political and