WHO ARE WE?

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When I started looking into the member benefits I had, I knew they were good, but I didn’t know they were that good. It was amazing.

Linda Crow

Saving money is important to everyone, but it’s been especially important to Linda Crow. She came into teacher later in life and needed to watch her budget while raising her daughter after her husband’s early death.

Question: It was difficult time for you. How did CTA help?

Our member benefits took the worry off my shoulders so I could do my job. I was the sole breadwinner with bills and student loans to pay off.  CTA/NEA Member Benefits – the home and auto insurance programs, the travel and entertainment discounts, the help with purchasing a new a car and financial education I received over the years – helped me stay ahead.

Question: Have you used any member benefits since then?

I’ve called on California Casualty a few times, most importantly when a fire caused massive damage to my home, and another time when my car was smashed in a hit-and-run. They were fantastic! I was out of my house for six months, and when I moved back in, it was even better than before. Later, when my car was hit while I was parked at the airport, California Casualty did a wonderful job, and I had it back within the month – and my insurance covered the rental car. I also saved almost $4,000 using the NEA Auto Buying program to purchase a new car.

Question: It sounds like you’ve been talking to you colleagues about your experiences.

Oh yes. When a few MTA leaders tried to convince members to disaffiliate from CTA, some of my colleagues and I began comparing CTA/NEA benefits with what the new independent association could offer. We discovered changing wasn’t worth it, and I told them I couldn’t afford to do it.

My California Casualty insurance saves me $2,400 a year as a CTA member, while I would only get a discount of $347 if I were to become of a member an independent association. I’d be paying more for less coverage. And then there are all the other discounts for entertainment, traveling and Disneyland.

Question: Were you surprised when you totaled up the savings?

When I started looking into the member benefits I had, I knew they were good, but I didn’t know they were that good. It was amazing.

In fact, my daughter, Drew Crow Bray, is a resource specialist in Sunnyvale. She, too, enjoys the benefits and feels secure that she is protected in her first of teaching. I am a very proud mom.

 

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I believe in the power of collective work. And my parents grew up in the Deep South in an ear where people had to work together for justice and equality. Rights aren’t often just handed down – and the rights and benefits we enjoy as educators have been achieved with a collective struggle.

Aisha Blanchard-Young

A veteran teacher who has taught multiple grade levels and subjects from kindergarten to continuation high school, Aisha Blanchard-Young has served in various union roles, including president of the Inglewood Teacher Association. She started this year as a third-grade teacher with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. Here she shares why membership matters to her.

Question: How did you become interested in being a union member?

There was never a question about it. I believe in the power of collective work. And my parents grew up in the Deep South in an ear where people had to work together for justice and equality. Rights aren’t often just handed down – and the rights and benefits we enjoy as educators have been achieved with a collective struggle.

Question: What roles do politics and legislative advocacy play in the day-to-day life of teachers?

I know not everyone thinks about it a lot, but it is something that is always there. CTA is our voice for political change, and there is so much that is political that affects our classrooms. Our leaders and their staff have a voice and listened to in Sacramento. I would fear for my students if they weren’t there.

Question: What specific examples come to mind?

Well, Proposition 30, for one. CTA was the driving force behind the new funding that is putting our schools back on track. And a decade ago, we were the leaders in fighting Governor Schwarzenegger’s trio of anti-teacher ballot initiatives. We also sued the governor and worked with Tom Torlakson to create the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) program, which was so good for the students and teachers at one of our Inglewood schools.

Questions: Speaking of Inglewood, that district has been deeply financially troubled. How was CTA able to help?

In addition to the work of local leaders and CTA staff in organizing and supporting ITA members through layoffs and other crises, CTA was there for us as the state began thinking about taking over the district. Through CTA, we were able to talk with lawmakers and with people at the California department of Education, so the people coming in from outside new it wasn’t just 400 teachers in Inglewood they would be dealing with, it was CTA. We were able to set up connections between our small local and the power players at the state level. Inglewood has been through some desperate times. Without CTA support we might have been left to drown.

Question:You served on CTA’s Strategic Planning Group. Are legislators and political action components of the strategic plan?

Absolutely. There isn’t a “political action” focus area of the plan, but legislative advocacy and political involvement are important tools as we talk about taking back our profession and advocating on education reform and social justice issues.

Question: What would you say to members who are skittish about CTA’s involvement in politics or who don’t always agree with every position taken?

I’d say not to focus on areas of disagreement and look at the bigger picture – that through CTA we have collective voice that is out there advocating for kids and for better teaching and learning conditions. Decisions are made through a democratic process, and individual voice are respected and heard.

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“Being on State Council has given me an opportunity to be more involved with CTA and to learn about issues that affect us on a state level.”

Fola Odebunmi

Fola Odebunmi’s involvement in her union comes down to one thing: her students.

“I would gravitate to anything that empowers them,” says the economics professor at Cypress College, a community college in Orange County. “The role of the faculty is vital in that. If you have a satisfied faculty, you will have satisfied students.”

Union activism is nothing new to Odebunmi. Her participation goes back to her years protesting the military regime in Nigeria as a university professor. When the political upheaval became intolerable, she emigrated to the United States.

Here, despite the absence of union representation for part-timers at the time, she became a founding member of a part-time faculty union. Later, when she was hired as a full-time professor at Cypress College, she became president of the Academic Senate, and then an active member of the North Orange County Community College District Faculty Association. After serving on the negotiating team, she was elected vice president and then president of the chapter association, and went on to serve as a board member of the Community College Association.

Now she serves as a CTA State Council representative. “Being on State Council has given me an opportunity to be more involved with CTA and to learn about issues that affect us on a state level,” she says. On campus and in the community, she has been involved in a variety of activities that have advanced the academic achievement of ethnic minority students, as a volunteer mentor with the Puente Program and with the Orange County INROADS, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to find talented minority students and develop them into corporate and community leaders.

She has also been involved in her share of protests for increased funding for schools and colleges. “I get involved because I truly believe that students are the future of this nation. They should be a high priority in the budget and shouldn’t have to go begging,” she says. She encourages educators to get involved:

  • Take a proactive stance on issues impacting educational policies and opportunities.
  • Make informed decisions on issues affecting your working conditions and required resources for getting your work done.
  • Be a role model for your students about being engaged and informed.
  • Help to perpetuate democracy.
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I like the support CTA offers, being part of a union, and having something bigger than just me as an individual looking out for students, schools and the people who work in them. ESP membership is a growing sector of CTA, and education support professionals weren’t always part of our union.

Cindi Lunsford

We spoke with Cindi Lunsford, who has worked for the past 10 years as a special education paraprofessional in Las Virgenes Unified School District, Los Angeles County. She is currently the executive secretary of the Las Virgenes Classified Association.

Why are you a CTA member?

I like the support CTA offers, being part of a union, and having something bigger than just me as an individual looking out for students, schools and the people who work in them. ESP membership is a growing sector of CTA, and education support professionals weren’t always part of our union.

Have there been any challenges being a classified union in the CTA family?

No, CTA does a great job of keeping us included and in the loop, and the state and local support they provide is outstanding. There’s no sense that we’re not fully integrated into the organization.

You’re on the bargaining team for your local. How is that going?

Like in a lot of districts, the ESP salary increases usually reflect what the teachers get, which can be problematic if we don’t all work together and another union settles early or forgoes salary for another issue. So we try and keep that communication going. Right now we’re working on the reclassification of jobs. The district treats all special ed support the same, but the reality is our members deal with very different situations along the special needs spectrum. Kim Mina, our CTA staff person, is a great resource for us when we’re at the bargaining table. We use her a lot.

What other issues does LVCA deal with?

There are safety issues, people getting hurt on the job, and those are reasons why it’s so important for support professionals to have an effective union. We’re also looking at trying to get agency fee payers in the near future. We’ve got about 300 LVCA members out of roughly 500 bargaining unit members, and it will be better for everyone if we’re all contributing and helping build a stronger union.

Any other thoughts on being a CTA member?

I can’t imagine what our schools would be like without CTA. They are there fighting for funding at the state level and then helping us with local issues. I’ve had nothing but positive experiences being a member. CTA is always there when we need them.

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“I credit our strong union for these successes,” she says. “Also, our parent community and new superintendent have all helped to bring a new era of labor cooperation and teamwork in the Mount Diablo Unified School District. I am so thankful for the union and for everyone who helped make this dream a reality.”

Eve Albright

For elementary music teacher Eve Albright, who has taught in the Bay Area for 25 years, the good news hit her like a well-performed student rendition of “Happy Days Are Here Again!”

This coming January, her painful $1,788 monthly payment for family Kaiser coverage will drop by more than $1,000. And a 9 percent raise will be phased in over three years.

“I credit our strong union for these successes,” she says. “Also, our parent community and new superintendent have all helped to bring a new era of labor cooperation and teamwork in the Mount Diablo Unified School District. I am so thankful for the union and for everyone who helped make this dream a reality.”

Albright’s husband is self-employed, so her family depends on her for health coverage. “Our daughter was in kindergarten when we started this battle to regain our health benefits, and was diagnosed with an incurable, chronic disease in fourth grade, which made it impossible for us to change health care providers. At least now, as she is a young adult learning how to make her way in our society, we can still provide her with excellent health care for a few more years.”

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I was overwhelmed at the response. We had Teamsters, Domestic Workers, Classified Workers, UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers), local Democratic clubs--all there speaking on our behalf and holding signs saying things like, "We Support the Part-Time Faculty."

Mark James Miller

We are The Laborhood. We are your children’s teachers, your loved ones in home support care provider, your local firefighters and first responders, and folks like Mark James Miller.

Picture of Mark James Miller

I have had many wonderful moments in the course of my union work, but one of the best was an event that took place last December.

We were in the midst of contract negotiations with the community college district. Bargaining had bogged down and was essentially stalemated. Our local leadership decided that the best way to break the deadlock was to make a show of strength at the next Board of Trustees meeting. We reached out to other labor unions and progressive organizations and asked them to send people who would either speak to the Board of Trustees during the public comments section or who would simply be there and hold a sign saying they were in support of the Adjunct Faculty.

I was overwhelmed at the response. We had Teamsters, Domestic Workers, Classified Workers, UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers), local Democratic clubs–all there speaking on our behalf and holding signs saying things like, “We Support the Part-Time Faculty.”

A little over a month later we were able to successfully conclude bargaining, signing a three year agreement that included an 8% across the board increase in pay for our members, an additional 20% for our “service faculty,” (mostly counselors, but also librarians and few others), improvements in office hours, improvements in professional development, and other changes for the better in our collective bargaining agreement.

I’m certain that this show of labor unity was the deciding factor.

Mark was a union construction worker and welder-mechanic in a cement plant for 11 years. After leaving those professions he became a community college teacher and helped organize the adjunct faculty into a union in 1999. Since 2001 he’s been president of local, CFT #6185.

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