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Eric C. Heins | CTA State Council Speech | April 9, 2016

 

Good Morning Council.

Since we last met, a few things have happened. Just a few. In fact, who could have predicted any of it? 

A month after the Supreme Court heard Friedrichs vs. CTA on January 11, we were stunned to hear the news that one of the key deciders in the case, Justice Antonin Scalia, had died unexpectedly. While anyone’s passing is sad and to be mourned, Justice Scalia’s death had far-reaching consequences. We weren’t sure what to expect after that. It was really anyone’s guess. We knew they had a couple of options. They could decide the case with eight justices or could decide to rehear it.

Just two weeks ago, on a four-to-four decision, the Court upheld the current law regarding the constitutionality of fair share fees. By upholding current law, the Supreme Court rejected a political ploy by the wealthy corporate special interests to make it harder for working families and the middle class to come together, speak up for each other and get ahead. 

The decision recognizes that stripping public employees of their collective bargaining rights in the workplace is a step in the wrong direction. Equally important, this decision is a victory for the millions of students in California and across the United States. By having the ability to join together to make our voices heard on issues that affect all of us, we ensure that our public schools and colleges remain strong and our students get the quality public education they need and deserve.

We welcome and celebrate the court's decision. This was truly great news. I want to recognize all the tremendous and outstanding work by the CTA/NEA legal team in presenting our case ... the work by CTA Communications to keep us all informed ... and the work by all of you for speaking out, organizing and engaging your colleagues.

And while, we deserve to celebrate … we must not step back or think this fight is over. The reality is more attacks will come. There are 27 similar cases waiting in the wings. We must carry on the work of engaging our members and educating the public on the importance of standing up to those who would shut out our voice. Friedrichs did not come out of nowhere.

It was a calculated attempt to decimate unions and our collective bargaining rights by wealthy special interests like the Koch brothers, who are funding the rightwing Center for Individual Rights, which brought the suit. We know these guys have deep pockets. And know they are not alone. Now, we must seize this moment and continue building on our momentum.

Membership Engagement

We are doing this best through our membership engagement efforts and we are seeing successful stories all over the state. This is a powerful testimony to our commitment in implementing CTA’s Strategic Plan:

Our Voice … Our Union. Member engagement helps us build and redefine our union so that we are more inclusive, more interactive, more communicative, more responsive, more relevant, and, yes, more influential.

Recent research shows us that more than 85 percent of CTA members who have been educators for less than 10 years say someone from the union contacted them in the past year. That’s phenomenal. What’s even better is that our local chapters are finding new ways to engage our members. Like in Los Angeles, where 82 percent of the voting members said yes to an unprecedented $19 a month dues increase to rebuild their union as a positive force for public education and to fight the school privatization movement. 

As UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said, “Our members believe in funding the fight for our vision for the “Schools LA Students Deserve” — one that is built by educators, parents, students, and our communities, neighborhood by neighborhood, not funded by corporate special interests.” Like in the San Bernardino Community College District, where our CTA chapter has been engaging part-time members by offering workshops on “How to Find a Full-time Job.” 

It’s hard to reach these road warriors because many of them work at multiple campuses. But as many as 60 part timers showed up for these trainings. Or in Alameda, where the San Leandro Teachers Association established an Issues to Action Forum to create a more interactive, member-driven culture. These forums included discussions about co-teaching, safety, technology, and support for English learners.

The executive board is using this information to guide the chapter’s work. And … like in Riverside, where the Desert Sands Teachers Association completed a building visit “blitz” where the bargaining team, executive board and organizing committee members visited every school in the district – about 41 sites – within three weeks to get feedback for upcoming negotiations with the district. 

That feedback resulted in developing a more organized structure to ensure members are supported and the association can easily pivot if there is a crisis. This is the type of membership engagement we must continue. These chapters are building and telling their story of us. Don’t agonize, organize! Strong local chapters build a strong CTA!

Initiative

If you are looking for membership engagement projects, I can’t think of any that is more important and relevant right now than gathering signatures to place the Children’s Education and Health Care Protection Act on the November ballot.

As you may recall, this body voted in January to support this initiative that extends the Prop. 30 temporary tax increases on the wealthy for 12 years. I don’t need to tell you what Prop. 30 has done for our students. We’re reducing class sizes, restoring programs, getting salary increases and rehiring educators. We must not turn back from that path.

The new initiative is expected to raise $8 to11 billion a year, which will free up money in the general fund for other programs, including higher education, childcare, and health care for low-income children. But we need to get out there and circulate those petitions. Believe me, a day spent gathering signatures at the local shopping center, or library, or in front of City Hall will engage your members. Especially if you do it together.

I know that many of you have been out there collecting signatures already. You even brought some with you to this Council. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

But time is running short. As a coalition, we need to gather 900,000 signatures to get our measure on the ballot. We are about 60 percent there, and we only have about three more weeks. The deadline has been extended to April 19. Your volunteer signatures will be the difference! I urge you to be a catalyst in your locals to keep the petition ball rolling!

Day of Action

We also have the opportunity to show our support for public education by participating in the National Day of Action to Reclaim Our Schools on May 4. CTA and NEA are partnering with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools and encourages local chapters and local schools to host ‘Walk-Ins” on this day.  Walk-in activities are geared toward local schools and local issues, and are designed to bring parents, educators, and students together to support our public schools.

This day of action gives us a chance to reach out to parents and talk to them about what’s on our minds. We can talk about CTA’s agenda for the public education ALL students deserve. We can talk about the dangers of high-stakes testing. We can talk about the need for continued funding for our schools and colleges, the value of smaller class sizes or the need for new arts programs.

It works like this ... 30 minutes before school begins everybody gathers together out front, and then when the bell rings, everybody walks in together. Some of our members in San Diego, Los Angeles and Oakland participated in such an activity on February 17 and have told us how powerful it was. This time we want to make a bigger statement in California. There are plenty of great resources like posters, flyers, fact sheets and talking points at reclaimourschools.org. I urge you all to participate.

César Chávez

This Council, as we honor labor leader César Chávez.  I can’t help but think how proud he would have been of all those who organized and worked to raise California’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. And how fitting that the law passed on his birthday. His life’s work was a fight for dignity and fairness for those working — most times the hardest — to make ends meet and provide a descent life for their families.

This new minimum wage has been a long time coming and we are so proud to be part of its passage. It would have never been possible without labor unions coming together, organizing and saying, “now is the time.”  It’s why César Chávez knew unions were the answer. He said, “We know what unions have done for other people.

We have seen it and we have studied and we have cherished the idea of unionism. We have seen the history and development of unions in this country and we tell the growers that we want nothing more, but that we want our own union and we are going to fight for it as long as it takes."

But I also want to share the words of United Farm Workers co-founder, Dolores Huerta, who recently joined CTA in our appeal of the Vergara lawsuit. At age 86, Dolores continues to be an activist for labor rights, for women’s rights and for civil rights. She once said, “Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world.” And really … changing the world is what educators do every day for their students.

ESP

In this room today, there are people who have fought to change their world and join the ranks of the California Teachers Association, because they knew that our voices are more powerful together. This year marks the 10th anniversary of California Education Support Professionals being full members of CTA. For years … way too many years … California ESP members were part of NEA, but not CTA.

We’re so proud to have you has full partners in our union, just as you are full partners in all the work that happens in our schools. You have strengthened and broadened our membership. We celebrate, honor and thank you for all that you do for students and for CTA. We are a more unified and inclusive union with you as full members on the team!

Conclusion

We are indeed living in challenging – some might say bizarre times. Our work as union members isn’t easy ... and we wouldn’t be here if it was. But, from where I stand, I don’t detect discouragement. I see new resolve. The stories we have been telling about ourselves, about our students, about our schools – they make a difference. They are making a difference with our members and with the public.

Our influence doesn’t just come from our presence in Sacramento, or at the voting booth, or at the bargaining table – though we’ve certainly kicked you-know-what in these areas. Our real influence comes from what we have to say though the stories we share. The things we are asking of you, of our leaders, of our veteran teachers, of our new teachers, of our ESP, of our faculty members, are both simple and difficult at the same time.

We need to show up and speak up for each other, for our students, and for public education. And we need to keep on doing it. As both Dolores Huerta and César Chávez would say: Adelante! Go forward! Let’s change the world!


UTLA AND CTA COLMENARES MEMORIAL AWARD

I mentioned UTLA’s outstanding member engagement efforts earlier. I now would like to take a few minutes to really recognize their leadership team and their organizing approach that has unified and transformed their local union. In the past two years, UTLA has settled a new contract, became a fully merged local chapter with CTA/NEA and CFT/AFT, took on Eli Broad and the school privatizers, started organizing charter schools, and voted to restructure and raise member dues.

They accomplished much of this the old fashioned-way and really the best way: by getting into school sites and having real conversations with members. They put together a plan with targets and goals … and they held each other accountable to meet them. They identified new leaders to be Chapter Chairs and area reps. And, they engaged the broader community.

Guided by their Campaign for the Schools LA Students Deserve, which outlines what educators and parents want for their children and in their schools, UTLA made sure the district knew this was their agenda during contract negotiations. They held firm and passed a contract that for the first time ever included class size limits and counselor-to-student ratios.

It also included a 10 percent ongoing salary increase for two years. With 83 percent turnout, the contract passed with 97 percent support. The UTLA team then moved to the next phase, which was merger, restructuring and a dues increase to Build the Future and Fund the Fight.

In the middle of this campaign, Eli Broad announced his plan to put half of LA students into private charter schools. The fight became very real. They knew that to remain a strong union ... and to be able to standup to Broad, Walmart, and other privatizers ... they had to send a clear message to everyone of solidarity and power.

They launched another member engagement campaign, asking members to increase dues by $19 a month. Their approach was once again, one-on-one organizing in neighborhood schools. All total, the team made more than 800 schools visits.

In February, with 82 percent support, UTLA members approved the dues increase ... and sent a clear and loud message to everyone. This was a tremendous victory for educators and students. And, it is an amazing example of what good, ongoing organizing can accomplish! And on September 1st, as a fully merged local, it will bring nearly 10,000 new members into the CTA family.

As part of today’s recognition … The CTA Jose Colmenares Memorial Award is a discretionary award that recognizes outstanding overall contributions to communications with members and the community. Voted by State Council’s Communications Committee, I’m so pleased to present this award to UTLA.

They submitted as just one example of their outstanding communications work a video that encapsulated their fight and memorialized their rally, “Making Our Stand at Grand” in Downtown LA. More than 15,000 people came to Grand Park that day to stand up for public schools. The video reached another 20,000 people on social media.

There are organizing lessons for all of us to learn from UTLA. I’d like to invite the UTLA Leadership Team, many of whom are here ... Alex Caputo-Pearl, Cecily Myart-Cruz, Betty Forrester, Juan Ramirez, Colleen Schwab, Arlene Inouye, Daniel Barnhart ... up now to accept this award on behalf of an outstanding union.

 

Every child deserves a chance to learn and no child succeeds alone.

© 1999- California Teachers Association