By Frank Wells
On May 21, the Inglewood Teachers Association voted to become the 11th CTA chapter to join its local central labor council and affiliate with the powerful national union, the AFL-CIO. Two days later members of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor joined ITA members for a massive weekend precinct walk that helped propel three ITA-endorsed school board candidates to victory in the June election.
ITA's move came out of a 2006 Labor Solidarity Partnership Agreement between NEA and the AFL-CIO, which allows NEA local chapters to voluntarily affiliate with the AFL-CIO and with their local labor council. So far 18 NEA chapters have affiliated, the vast majority coming from California.
"This was a natural move for us," says ITA President Aisha Blanchard-Young. "We had worked closely with labor in the past on issues like blocking a Wal-Mart superstore that would have undermined the local economy, and along with CTA we've been very active in supporting the Los Angeles area hotel workers as they have struggled to unionize."
Blanchard-Young says the support has been mutual. Hotel and restaurant workers from UNITE HERE — many of whom are parents of students in Inglewood — have come to school board meetings and ITA rallies to show their support. "Inglewood is a working-class community, and that community was facing an unresponsive school board just as we were," she says. "It was natural to join together and work to get a school board that will be accountable."
Shortly after Inglewood's application was submitted, the San Diego Education Association followed suit. CTA's second-largest local had a long history of mutual support with local labor, going back at least as far as the successful multiday strike of 1996. "Labor has been with us as long as I can remember," says SDEA President Camille Zombro. "During the strike we had teamsters and other labor bringing us doughnuts and other food, and labor leaders spoke at our rallies." Zombro credits the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council with an election win that changed the majority and the direction of the SDUSD board. "Everyone benefited — educators, students, community, and labor. In fact, the new board has passed a labor agreement ensuring living wages are attached to school bond projects."
Like Inglewood, SDEA had some internal debate about the place for educators in the house of labor. "Some members expressed concern that their issues aren't our issues, and vice versa," says Zombro. "But I think that's a learning process. Most of our members really understood our history with local labor and the mutual benefit of a solid partnership." SDEA is now the largest NEA chapter participating in the agreement.
The Rialto Education Association was the first CTA local to affiliate, and had sought to do so years before the solidarity agreement allowed it. "Rialto is a community with a high rate of union membership," says REA President Bill Hedrick. "We were looking for ways to build more substantive relationships with our students' parents and the community in which they live." Hedrick cautions that labor councils are somewhat different than a local chapter rep council, especially given that they are comprised of so many individual organizations themselves. "Multigroup democracy can sometimes get a little complicated, but nurturing these relationships is worth it."
CTA President David A. Sanchez's own local chapter, the Santa Maria Elementary Education Association, affiliated last year. "CTA chapters have worked for years with local labor," observes Sanchez. "The solidarity partnership agreement is a powerful option for our members to more closely join forces with labor on many of our common issues. Quality schools, health care, budget cuts, taxes — these issues affect everyone."
Additional CTA chapters participating in the affiliation agreement are the Oakland Education Association, the Hayward Education Association, the Hartnell College Faculty Association, the Fremont Unified District Teachers Association, the Eastside Teachers Association, the San Leandro Teachers Association, the Los Angeles County Education Association, and the Mt. Diablo Education Association. United Teachers Los Angeles and United Educators of San Francisco have dual affiliations with CTA and the California Federation of Teachers.
The agreement expires in December. NEA and the AFL-CIO are already discussing how to extend the agreement. "At the end of the day it brings teachers the benefit of more close alignment with labor and their community," says Hedrick, "and it allows labor the benefit of working more closely with educators. Everybody wins."
For more information on the AFL-CIO/NEA affiliation process, visit www.aflcio.org/aboutus/jointheaflcio/nea.cfm.
How to affiliate with AFL-CIO
The affiliation process involves an application from the local chapter to CTA, where it is reviewed, and if approved, forwarded to NEA for final submission to AFL-CIO. Under the current agreement, affiliation is with the local labor council and the national AFL-CIO, with state affiliation optional. The per-member dues amount varies, depending on the local labor council amount, but the total is generally less than a dollar a month per member. Once affiliated, locals have full rights and responsibilities as members of their central labor councils.