One of the great powers of a union is its ability to uplift the
living conditions and status of its members, not just at the
bargaining table, but within the structure of the union itself —
when the seemingly most marginalized members assume leadership
These last few years have been particularly challenging times for
the American labor movement as we’ve faced everything from a host
of anti-labor policies coming from Washington to a Supreme Court
decision designed to gut public sector unions. The good news is
that despite all of that, the union movement has persevered and
the number of Americans who support unions and say they would
like the opportunity to join one is the highest it has been in
I joined the picket lines in Oakland on three different mornings.
On the first day of the strike, teachers brought a boom box and
we danced and sang on the line. Another day, at a different
school, a parent brought a folding table and fed us tangerines,
string cheese, mountains of cinnamon and chocolate croissants and
Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, Chair of the Higher
Education Committee, recognized the University Council-AFT on the
Assembly Floor during UC-AFT’s first group lobby day at the State
Capitol on April 1.
Editor’s note: What follows is a
condensed version of an inspired presentation from the CFT’s
annual Classified Conference.
My name is Carl Williams and I am southern vice president of the
CFT Council of Classified Employees, a CFT vice president, proud
president of the Lawndale Federation of Classified Employees, a
father, a husband… and a Unionist. Now don’t get me wrong, I have
not always been a Unionist… the transition from union member is
“Good morning, San Francisco!” Luukia Smith called out to a sea
of striking Marriott hotel workers and their supporters. Among
the crowd were CFT classified employees who had bussed from the
Classified Conference on October 20 to join the downtown rally.
It has been the worst of times and the best of times for the
American Labor Movement in 2018.
Economic inequality has continued to spiral out of control as
policy coming out of Washington, D.C. designed to tilt the scales
in favor of the rich and corporations weakened the rights of
working Americans at every turn. At the Supreme Court level,
anti-labor justices joined the assault against labor and
undermined public sector unions’ rights to collect dues. This,
combined with a tax bill that radically redistributed wealth
upward and paved the way for new austerity measures aimed at
gutting Social Security and Medicare, had some pundits sounding
the death knell for unions and the legacy of the New Deal.
Watsonville, California, a produce powerhouse — July 1985: Mort
Console, owner of Watsonville Canning, the major company in town,
suddenly cuts wages by 40 percent and reduces health benefits.
The factory workers of Teamsters Local 912 immediately vote to go
out on strike, just as Console’s anti-union law firm has advised
him they would: “Make outrageous demands; the workers will
strike. Replace them with scabs. After 12 months, request a union
decertification vote, which will then include the strikebreakers
Government turns to violence, refuses to negotiate
Since the killing of nine demonstrators in the Oaxacan town of
Nochixtlán on June 19, Mexico has been in an uproar over the
force used against teachers resisting corporate education reform.
As the school year started on August 22, teachers in four states
refused to return to classes until the perpetrators of the
massacre are held responsible and there is a negotiated agreement
to change the government’s program.
Each year one month finds creative activities by teachers and
students celebrating the mostly unsung history of the labor
movement. May is Labor History
Month in California, as declared in AB 2269 (Swanson,
D-Oakland) and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2012.
Exhibits, classroom lessons, in-services and sometimes entire
schools explore the rich history of collective struggle that
brought us worker rights on the job and better lives for families
in our communities.
Jimmy Kelly comes from a union family in Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania, where his grandfather, father and two brothers were
all union members. “I grew up in a different era, in a town that
traced the origin of its labor movement to the great strikes in
the steel mills,” he recalls. “We learned labor terms in fourth
Five women spoke to California Teacher about their first months
as new presidents of AFT local unions. These leaders relate how
their perspective as women shapes their approach to the
challenges unions face.
How does a new PG&E worker like Nilda Garcia become an
organizer traveling the nation to fight for social justice?
Garcia is one of a group of “organizing stewards” that has
ignited passion in her union, the International Brotherhood of
Electrical Workers, Local 1245.
Union asks members not to purchase supplies at low-wage retailer
The CFT is boycotting office supply retailer Staples at the
request of the American Postal Workers Union, which is opposing a
no-bid sweetheart deal between the U.S. Postal Service and the
giant office supply retailer to operate postal counters in
Staples stores. An estimated one-third of Staples’ revenues come
from the sale of school supplies, many purchased by teachers and
other school employees for classrooms.
Seven-year journey to bring overtime protections to personal
They work in the shadows of society and have been excluded from
the most basic of labor protections. Yet those domestic workers
who care for seniors, children and the disabled, have risen above
their historic isolation, built an effective coalition and
performed the seven years of heavy lifting that saw their
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
By Velma J. Butler, President, CFT Council of Classified
I spent the dayafter
Thanksgiving with family and friends at Walmart. We
weren’t in front of the largest — and richest — retailer in the
world for Black Friday sales. We were there to support employees
standing up for what every worker wants: dignity and respect on
Walmart’s formula for “success” is no secret. They offer cheap
prices by paying suppliers around the world like dirt, paying
their 1.4 million employees like dirt, and driving smaller
competitors out of business. If other “big box” stores try to
play by the same rules, it touches off a race to the bottom that
spreads the pain.
Coalition of Contingent
Academic Labor (COCAL ) An integrated coalition of
activists from faculty organizations and unions representing
contingent, non-tenured faculty members in all segments of higher
education in North-America, with the goals of
coordinating activities to educate the public about the
inequities of contingent faculty, promoting legislation, and
improving bargaining rights, working conditions and education
By Velma J. Butler, President, CFT Council of Classified
There is no denying or candy-coating it:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was not recalled in the June 5
special election. Progressive voters led by public sector
employees fell short of that goal, beaten in large part by a 7-1
flood of anti-union money.