New chapter has big plans
Diane Lewis didn’t start out as a union organizer. She didn’t come from a union family and she wasn’t part of a union in her previous job in broadcast journalism. But the Lake Tahoe Community College library technician has undergone a transformation. Even her email address uses “Norma Rae” after the factory worker-turned- labor organizer immortalized on film by actress Sally Field.
It’s served her well over the past year as she helped to organize the Lake Tahoe Community College Classified Employees Union into a chapter of CCA/CTA’s Education Support Professionals.
“I’ve never been a union member, but I understood pretty quickly when I got here that we needed to organize. Right now we are among the poorest paid classified groups in the state, and that’s something we’d like to change.”
There are a few other things the new union would like to change as well, including improved health and welfare benefits, the development of a grievance process that works, and binding arbitration.
“This ‘meet and confer’ business we had in place had no teeth,” Lewis said. “We just couldn’t get anything done.”
While Lewis and her union colleagues acknowledge that conditions under a previous college president are what ignited them to organize, they can see the advantage for everyone. A visit by CTA President Dean Vogel earlier this month only confirmed their opinion.
In a community event at the college sponsored by the new classified staff and faculty unions, Vogel provided the educator’s perspective on the problems that K-12 schools and community colleges face in California. In the face of top-down policy decisions and crippling budget cuts (which will only get worse if a funding initiative is not passed by voters in November), Vogel discussed the need for educators to reach out to friends, neighbors, students and the community to talk about what is going on in their schools and colleges.
Vogel’s remarks prompted lively discussion and exchange of contact information among the Lake Tahoe college classified staff, faculty, K-12 educators, and college administrators during a reception that concluded the event.
“This just tells me that we all need to band together to make things better,” said Paul Neves, president of the Tahoe ESP chapter. “We have to have a decent classroom environment for our students and faculty and classified staff provides that support. I think that with our faculty and staff represented by CTA, our whole school will be stronger.”
Lewis recognized that the past few months have been an adjustment period for the board and for the new union, but she agreed with Vogel.
“He speaks my language. We need to be talking to each other. This room shows me that we’re together,” she said.