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By making membership engagement and management collaboration some of its top priorities, the San Leandro Teachers Association (SLTA) has earned the respect and participation of many of its 462 members in the San Leandro Unified School District. The union is a force not just at the bargaining table, but in the classroom as well, because it acts on issues that educators want handled, says veteran SLTA President Jon Sherr.


SLTA’s Ron Thompson, Amy Reick and Phil Smothermon, teachers at Bancroft Middle School.

Teachers respond to issues they feel are relevant. “It gets more people involved,” he says. “And now our district does respect the leadership of the union. The district is willing to work with us.”

In one key project, SLTA reviews the performance of principals at all 14 school sites. Every February, educators fill out confidential questionnaires, which union leaders then discuss with Superintendent Mike McLaughlin and other district managers. It’s meant to be a constructive process. “Our members felt that since principals are evaluating them, they should also get to do evaluations,” Sherr says.

Then there’s the thriving SLTA “Issues to Action” program, says SLTA Vice President Tom Morse, who helps coordinate it. Started in 2014, it promises that the union will listen to members’ priorities and then act on those priorities.

The program is a way to remind teachers that their union work extends into the classroom and far from the bargaining table. “On the one hand, we’re a union. On the other hand, we’re the heart of the community,” says Morse.

So far, the program’s successes include teachers having a stronger role in changing the district’s student assessment and discipline policies, and having their voices heard about special education caseloads and tech integration into curriculum. SLTA committees on co-teaching, campus safety, new program integration, English learner issues and tech integration are holding ongoing meetings involving scores of members.

Morse will give a presentation on vital union issues and SLTA victories at all school sites in February and March. It mostly underlines the attacks on public schools by federal anti-union efforts, and the dangers from the pending U.S. Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME, which would weaken unions by ending the requirement that non-union members must pay fair share fees to cover the costs of representing them. (See Morse’s presentation here.)

By improving labor-management relations and engaging members over the last six years, SLTA:

  • Secured 23.5 percent salary increases.
  • Lowered class sizes in elementary schools.
  • Created a wellness committee that holds employee health fairs, with one planned March 30.
  • Secured more nursing and counselor positions.
  • Elected pro-student and pro-teacher majorities to the progressive school board.

In fact, with its active political action committee and the union’s affiliation with the Alameda County Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the SLTA endorsement in school board races has taken on a huge significance for candidates, Sherr says. “San Leandro is still a union town.” He adds that Alameda County’s labor movement is a good place to seek common goals, for the sake of students and the community.

Morse believes in face-to-face meetings and forums on union issues to build unity. He says working with CTA is key in these uncertain political times, which is why he asked CTA Board member Terri Jackson, an East Bay teacher, to address San Leandro teachers early last year about the dangers posed to education by the Trump administration.

Last fall, he attended a CTA conference in San Jose. “President Eric Heins was there, and he said the one thing we need to do as union activists is build relationships. He was right.”

He says the ongoing SLTA efforts will help San Leandro teachers face whatever threat to students and the teaching profession lies ahead.

“People do know that we are under attack, and they are ready to step up,” Morse says. “People are woke more than they’ve ever been.”