Volume 16 Issue 3
By Mike Myslinski and Dina Martin
CTA leaders from Regions I and II met in Pacific Grove and Reno, Nev., to discuss the issues their members currently face. Members attended helpful workshops and discussions, and listened to keynote speaker Elaine Bernard, head of the Harvard Trade Union Program, stress the importance of organizing in a time when unions are under attack nationwide.
Region I: A “perfect storm”
For Kathy Young and many other Northern California CTA members who attended the CTA Region I Leadership Conference in mid-October, the “perfect storm” theme was perfect. It gave an urgency to the Pacific Grove gathering of nearly 500 educators and the vital workshops and inspiring speakers selected to help members weather the storm of challenges facing public education.
“It was one of the most useful CTA conferences I have ever attended,” says Young, the communications director for the Cupertino Education Association and a fourth-grade teacher. Her media relations and internal communications training prompted her to rev up her Santa Clara County chapter’s social media program, and to start to revamp its website.
Keynote speaker Elaine Bernard inspired Young. “She is really dynamic. She puts everything in a new light.”
“We are wearing targets on our backs,” said Bernard, because public employees are the most unionized sector in America. “We can create a better future.”
She praised those in the audience for taking the time to get involved in their union and seeing the power of collective action in the workplace. “We discovered that if we organized a few people and a bunch of us stood up, we could change things.”
The “perfect storm” theme was reflected in the workshops offered: how to fight back against the “bad teacher” narrative; a look at who is behind attacks on unions; an examination of labor’s rich history and what it means to be a union leader; and how to organize for power by building a CTA chapter based on strong relationships with colleagues and their values.
Participants spent a part of the Oct. 14-16 weekend discussing in small groups how education reform, online learning and the state’s fiscal crisis challenge public education today. Educators left the conference with a framework for understanding the perfect storm of problems our schools and union face; they learned how to empower members and chapters through collective actions; and they learned the connections between the workshops and the development of union survival skills, and the need to plan the next steps.
In his inspirational closing speech, CTA President Dean E. Vogel underscored the perfect storm concerns.
“Region I never turns away from the tough issues, and this weekend’s conference was no exception,” Vogel said. “You know which way the winds are blowing and are not afraid to push back against the forces that would privatize our classrooms or marginalize our roles as educators.
You do this, together, in union with your other CTA brothers and sisters across the state. And you do it in the face of all the teacher-bashing and scapegoating that’s been going on recently.”
He reminded members of how highly the public regards educators, offering hope for the battles that lie ahead.
“You should know that no matter what cheap shots our adversaries are taking at us in the media, our latest polling shows teachers are still among the most valued and respected members in our communities. When you speak, people listen.”
Region II: Bringing leaders together
There were a lot of reasons to be first-timers at the Region II Leadership Conference in Reno. With a distance of 535 miles from Yreka in the north to Bakersfield in the south, Region II is geographically the largest of CTA’s four regions, bringing together both large urban and small rural chapters. The annual conference is one of the ways that Region II overcomes that distance.
“I’m interested in finding out all that CTA has to offer,” said Melissa Shepherd, a site representative and member of the Lodi Education Association. “I had no idea there was so much.”
With more than 65 elective sessions, the more than 500 educators in attendance were able to choose from trainings that covered bargaining, building relationships with school boards, survival skills for leaders during trying times, Robert’s Rules of Order simplified, understanding poverty, when bullying is no longer just teasing, grievances, and other topics. Throughout the weekend, members were able to learn from experienced trainers as well as one another.
“You meet people that have the same situation and find out you’re not alone,” said Ronda Fish, president of the Pacheco District Teachers Association. “I feel empowered to know that I don’t have to cower before my school board.”
Members even sang the praises of a training on a potentially dreary topic like Robert’s Rules of Order.
“Robert and I are not on ‘intimate’ terms, and this was absolutely fabulous!” said Lisa Buckner, who will carry out parliamentarian duties in the Bakersfield Elementary Teachers Association this year. “It was very informative. You cannot go away from these trainings and not learn something.”
In his address, President Vogel singled out several chapters that have engaged in successful organizing efforts:
The Calaveras Unified Educators Association, which packed school board meetings, worked with parents and was able to announce the restoration of five and a half positions.
The Hanford Elementary Teachers Association, which gained community support by holding book drives and blood drives, and participating in events to clean up the community. Through its increased presence in the community, the association was successful in keeping its fully paid medical benefits intact and taking no days off the calendar.
The Sierra Unified Teachers Association (SUTA), which helped grow its membership to 65 members over the past two years once it focused its attention on organizing, and sent a team of members to the Organizing for Power training last spring.
“The most important thing we can do in this organization is to organize, and I know Region II has taken that to heart,” Vogel said. “You have committed yourselves to building an organizing culture. From attending small group meetings to larger Organizing for Power trainings, you are listening to each other, building relationships, and finding the connections you need to continue this valuable work.”