By Dina Martin
Chapter officers Bob Roseblade, Diane Lewis, and Paul Neves.
Diane Lewis didn’t start out as a union organizer. She didn’t come from a union family, and she wasn’t a union member in her previous job in broadcast journalism. But the Lake Tahoe Community College library technician has undergone a transformation. Even her e-mail address uses “Norma Rae” after the factory worker turned labor organizer immortalized on film by actress Sally Field.
“I’d 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,” she said.
That advocacy served her well over the past year as she helped to organize the Lake Tahoe Community College Classified Employees Union into a chapter of CTA’s education support professionals.
They are in the process of negotiating their first contract. “This ‘meet and confer’ business we had in place had no teeth,” Lewis said. “We just couldn’t get anything done.” Their to-do list includes improved health and welfare benefits, the development of a grievance process that works, and binding arbitration.
While Lewis and her union colleagues acknowledge that conditions under a previous college president ignited the need to organize, they can see the advantage for everyone. A visit by CTA President Dean Vogel in May only confirmed their opinion.
Vogel provided the educator’s perspective on the challenges that K-12 schools and community colleges face in California during a community event sponsored by the new union. In the face of top-down policy decisions and crippling budget cuts (which will only get worse if the governor’s tax 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.
Noting that the public continues to cite teachers, educators and those who work in schools and colleges as the most trusted voice in education, Vogel said, “The community recognizes you as the ones who are holding this together. How willing are we to stand together to support the needs of our communities?”
Vogel’s remarks prompted lively discussion and an exchange of contact information among the Lake Tahoe area college classified staff, faculty, K-12 educators and college administrators.
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.
“This just tells me that we all need to band together to make things better,” said Paul Neves, president of the new 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.”