There’s power in numbers
By: Lynette Nyaggah, CCA President
In our first CCA Book Club selection, There is Power in a Union, we learned about the young women who banded together to resist long hours and unfair working conditions in the textile mills of Lowell, Mass., in the late 19th century. This was one of the first successful efforts to change industrial working conditions, in this case mandating 10-hour days instead of 14-16 hour days. This was followed over the next 50 years by the establishment of many industrial unions we hear about today – the American Federation of Labor (AFL), the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), the United Auto Workers (UAW), the steel workers, coal workers and Longshoremen, among others.
Unions fought for entire aspects of our lives we now take for granted. Unions fought for the eight-hour work day and for increased pay for overtime. Unions fought for an end to child labor. Unions fought for safety on the job. Unions fought for mandated breaks. Unions fought for weekends. Unions fought for paid holidays and vacation time. Unions fought for health benefits paid by employers. Unions fought for pensions so that we didn’t spend our old in poverty. And as unions grew, so did the middle class.
Around the same time as the Lowell mill workers strike, your union, the California Teachers Association, was established by state schools Superintendent John Swett. CTA advocated for free public schools in 1866, sponsored legislation requiring compulsory school attendance in 1874, and in 1899, wrote legislation mandating that all public school teachers be college graduates.
For all of us in CCA, one of CTA’s most important accomplishments was the campaign to establish community and junior colleges starting in 1911. In our community colleges, we know that we offer an opportunity to everyone to get a college education. In the 1990s, I shared my office with a Fulbright Exchange faculty member from Norwich in northern England. He told me that he was amazed that our students really believed that education was the key to their future and even if they didn’t always have the skills they needed, they had the commitment, which was very different from his experience in England. I think all of us recognize what an important role we play in the economic and intellectual life of California, and our union has supported us in what we do for 102 years.
Our work isn’t over
After the passage of Proposition 30 a year ago, we stepped back from the brink of economic disaster for our colleges. Yet, our work isn’t over. All over the state, I see colleges focusing on the Student Success initiative. We all have to figure out ways of helping students get the counseling they need – often face-to-face – and advocate for sufficient funding for counselors.
We also face the ongoing attempts to solve funding and staffing problems with a one-size-fits-all conversion to online education. Many of our state leaders have been convinced by private interests that this is the answer. CTA, together with other faculty groups, recently defeated SB 520, a bill that would have mandated community colleges and the CSU to allow for-profit companies to offer classes to our students. This was a bad idea, and through our advocacy, we convinced the legislature to reject it.
We also grapple every day with the two-tier system of full-time and part-time faculty, where our part-time colleagues usually do not share the employment security, salaries, and benefits of full time faculty.
Your union has value
Your local union has value. Your union leaders work with the administration and board of trustees to increase student success and safeguard your rights. They spend hours every week working on negotiations and on representation. Sometimes in our busy lives, with teaching, committees, and personal obligations, what the union does for you is invisible. It is the absence of problems, and so we don’t notice. So thank your leaders for the work they do.
I would like to challenge you to become more involved with your local faculty association. To paraphrase President John Kennedy: Ask not what your union can do for you, ask what you can do for your union. We know that you are active in your communities, your children’s schools and teams, and in your houses of worship. We are asking you to translate those skills and interests into contributions to your union. We are a non-partisan organization that values members from all political persuasions and promise to listen to everyone’s views. After all, we estimate that 40 percent of CTA membership is Republican, and the CTA Republican Caucus is growing larger every year. The caucus has worked successfully to change the views of the California Republican establishment so that they listen to CTA members, knowing that we value our Republican members.
So come join us in the big tent we call CCA/CTA and help us continue the tradition of advocating for education that began 150 years ago!