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
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
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
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.
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.
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’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