The American Federation of Teachers Guild, Local 1931, is an open, active, vital, member-driven organization representing faculty and staff throughout San Diego County. We are dedicated to achieving and maintaining the highest quality:
• Educational environment provided for our students;
• Compensation and working conditions for all of the employees we represent;
• Legal representation, ensuring that justice, fairness, dignity and due process are afforded to all unit members;
• Workplace unity and equity, actively built on a foundation of respect among all unit members;
• Solidarity among unions in supporting working people everywhere, in their demands for a living wage, access to affordable health care, and respectable working conditions;
• Worker education programs emphasizing the current issues affecting working families, as well as a broader perspective on labor’s struggles throughout history;
• Legislative advocacy on behalf of all workers, and directed at all levels of the legislative system;
• The Guild recognizes that achieving equity requires the dismantling of institutional racism, sexism, and homophobia as well as societal & economic barriers facing students and all workers in our society. The Guild is committed to an intersectional approach in addressing equity gaps in educational opportunities.
We further commit ourselves, on behalf of all workers, to expanding and advancing the labor movement in general at all levels.
THE AFT GUILD STORY: Our Union Local’s History and the Urgency of Engaging for Struggles Ahead
[Editor’s Note: The history of the AFT Guild is one of improbable beginnings, strong leadership, a supportive membership, and joint commitment to meeting the formidable challenges that have confronted us. This essay highlights essential institutional characteristics of the local, as it has evolved since its chartering in January 1969. An earlier version of this article was published in the December 2017 edition of Union Advantage. The author has substantively revised and expanded that essay, introducing new material based on his on-going research.]
By Jonathan McLeod, Ph.D., President of the AFT Guild’s Retiree Chapter, Local 1931R
A teachers union . . . in San Diego??? As Jim Miller (2006) wrote, “San Diego was not just a conservative town in the 1960s, it was a stronghold of the hard right . . . It wasn’t just campus radicals . . . who had trouble in San Diego. Even mainstream bread and butter unionism was seen as a tough sell here by many in the union movement [Miller, ed., Democracy in Education; Education for Democracy: An Oral History of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 1931, 1969-2006, pp. 7-8]. The unlikely setting notwithstanding, a group of committed San Diego community college faculty established the American Federation of Teachers, Local 1931—the AFT Guild—which was chartered on 2 January 1969 as an affiliate of the California Federation of Teachers (established in 1919), and the national union, the American Federation of Teachers (numbering 1.7 million members as of August 2017). The AFT Guild also is affiliated with the San Diego- Imperial Counties Labor Council, the California Labor Federation, and the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).
Following receipt of that charter, the AFT Guild founders spent eighteen more years building the union from the ground up, engaging in intense organizing, marked by some frustrations and setbacks, before a majority of the San Diego Community College District (SDCCD) college faculty, in a bitter 1987 decertification election, withdrew support from the California Teachers Association (CTA), that had represented them since 1977, and voted affirmatively for the AFT Guild as the exclusive bargaining agent for college faculty in the district. Hard work by the new AFT Guild leadership in developing contract language and negotiating with a decidedly anti-union Board of Trustees finally produced the first AFT Guild-SDCCD Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) covering college faculty, in 1988.
What was the context? While teaching had been widely viewed as a noble calling, at the outset of the twentieth century, teachers generally received abysmally low pay, while facing arbitrary discipline and job insecurity. Working under such conditions, a coalition of visionary Chicago, Illinois and Gary, Indiana teachers, in 1916, set out to create a new national teachers’ union, with local affiliates, to support teachers’ interests. This was the genesis of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). In an era before collective bargaining law existed and when resistance to public sector unionism was widespread, building the Chicago-based union proved to be a steep uphill fight. Indeed, in California, teachers tried to organize unions, but not until 1976 did state law permit collective bargaining for public school and university employees.
Since its inception, the AFT has supported raising the pay for teachers, along with librarians, nurses, counselors, para-professionals, and office and technical employees affiliated with the union. Additionally, the AFT has fought for establishment and enforcement of workplace rights, including tenure and job security, due process, health care benefits, and pensions—all upholding professionalism and academic integrity in schools, colleges, and universities.
AFT Guild roots in San Diego. In San Diego, AFT Locals 370 and 1278 successively were umbrella countywide organizations for all teachers which, from the late-1950s onward, supported AFT positions on faculty rights and improved working conditions; but they lacked recognition in any of the school districts or colleges in the county. Intent on addressing issues facing community college faculty specifically, a small cohort of 61 community college faculty members of Local 1278 left that union, in 1968, to form the new Local 1931 that the AFT chartered in 1969.
Leaders of this new San Diego community colleges local included Ted Bardake, Don Estes, and Larry Schwartz from City College, and Fred Horn, Michael Kuttnauer, Jack Robison, and Mel Steinfeld from Mesa College. The unrelenting organizers were Schwartz and Kuttnauer who articulated the case for teacher unionism in many forums, floating ideas about the elements of a contract that would advance the interests of community college faculty and improve the educational environment. Among the early presidents of the local successively were Horn, Kuttnauer, Schwartz, and Marcia Carman (City College).
Unions, however, remained outside of the power centers in the community colleges until the late-1970s. The Winton Act, enacted as state law in 1965, promoted “meet and confer” consultation between the administration and faculty. Going into the meetings with little clout, however, the academic senate leader participants met with administrators occasionally, but usually had to defer on issues of substance. In the vacuum, as Horn has recalled, typically these discussions focused on such weighty topics as planning agendas for upcoming school board meetings.
Once the policy environment in Washington shifted toward acknowledging the rights of public employees to unionize, during the 1960s, some states enacted legislation clearing the way for teacher unions to enter into collective bargaining with public school districts, college districts, and university systems. For California’s community colleges, the enactment of the Education Employment Relations Act (1975)—the Rodda Act—changed the dynamics in faculty relations with local public school and community college governing boards. The CTA won a certification election to represent faculty in the SDCCD in 1977. Initially, the CTA rejected the concept of collective bargaining, which process the leadership associated with AFL-CIO and Teamsters labor unions. They cultivated an identity of being a professional association. By collaborating with administration, they would secure contractual gains. California voters’ approval of Proposition 13 (1978) significantly reduced state allocations for public education. When the CTA leaders set about negotiating contracts, they opted for a two-tiered salary schedule that favored senior faculty over junior faculty (on the infamous Schedule D), whose salaries were among the lowest in the state. This matter became a major source of discontent among members. Additionally, the CTA contract had a weak, perfunctory system of faculty evaluation and promotion. Adjuncts accounted for only a small segment of the faculty, at this time, and the CTA did not devote attention to their plight. Through this ten-year period, the AFT Guild activists, spurred on tirelessly by Schwartz and Kuttnauer, kept organizing around the edges. They sustained this effort through two failed decertification elections, in 1981 and 1984, until they finally prevailed in 1987.
Still other SDCCD faculty were employed in the Continuing Education division. Initially, under the leadership of John Sullivan, they formed the San Diego Adult Educators Association, affiliated with the California Council of Adult Educators. Seeking stronger representation, in 1977, Virginia Kellner paved the way in launching AFT, Local 4289. The AFT national union formalized the status of the local as the exclusive collective bargaining agent for the Continuing Education faculty, in 1984. The Continuing Education faculty having full-time contracts, in the late-1980s, numbered 110. They worked alongside 1,100 adjunct instructors. Most contract gains were skewed toward the full-time faculty. For example, through bargaining, in 1982, these tenure and tenure-track faculty won health insurance benefits. Qualified adjuncts did not gain similar benefits until 1992. Some ladder advancement opportunities were established, and a few professor-rank positions were created. Through bargaining, Local 4289, under the presidency of Shirle Nester, secured some fixed-term assignments that provided a measure of job security for the adjunct faculty. In sum, 90 percent of the faculty received few gains. To the majority of the membership, the leadership appeared weak and complacent. Dissatisfaction simmered in the Continuing Education faculty ranks.
Meanwhile, SDCCD classified employees certified the California State Employees Association (CSEA) as their representative. The CSEA also favored a collaboration model, shunning affiliation with the AFL-CIO. Much of the focus of the CSEA was on the Public Employees Retirement System and leaders were proud that the agreements they negotiated provided that the SDCCD paid employee contributions, though in the end, that worked to the economic disadvantage of the employees on tax exposure. In negotiating contracts, the CSEA comparatively had a weak hand. Like clockwork in the negotiation cycle, the SDCCD dangled the lure of “bonus days” around the Christmas period to prompt the leaders to settle for less than they might otherwise have done.
Just to the east, college faculty of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District (GCCCD) were represented by the United Faculty organization (UF), an affiliate of the California Community Colleges Independents. As the faculty’s collective bargaining agent, the UF focused principally on securing contractual provisions which benefitted the full-time faculty, especially at Grossmont, the larger and older college, assuring loyalty from that segment of the membership. Over the years, though, dissatisfaction churned close to the surface. Relations between several successive GCCCD chancellors and the faculty on both campuses deteriorated. The rancor led the Academic Senate at Grossmont College to vote no confidence in the district leadership. By extension, faculty at both Grossmont and Cuyamaca felt disrespected by many of the college administrators. A deeply felt resentment on the part of the full-time Cuyamaca College faculty that their college was treated as being in the shadow of Grossmont College, however, effectively worked against the faculty finding common ground to address the failed administrative leadership.
In this toxic environment, UF leadership proved ineffectual both in bridging divisions among the faculty at the colleges and in working with the GCCCD Board of Trustees to address the paralyzing problems. UF efforts to elect board members who would be more receptive to faculty interests failed. Only when the AFT Guild ran a campaign promoting Mary Kay Rosinski against incumbent Tim Caruthers, in 2008, did the composition of the GCCCD Board begin to shift to a more faculty-friendly composition, while showing the faculty that the AFT Guild offered a promising alternative to the UF. Meanwhile, as the UF leaders increasingly became non-communicative with the membership, discontent erupted, particularly among the Cuyamaca College full-time faculty and the adjuncts at both colleges.
AFT Guild certified as exclusive bargaining agent for faculty in SDCCD Colleges. The long organizing campaign to secure the AFT Guild’s upset victory in the SDCCD came to fruition, in May 1987, when college faculty at City, Mesa, and Miramar Colleges voted out the CTA and certified the AFT Guild as their new exclusive collective bargaining agent. Following this contentious third battle, the Guild shifted gears, entering into lengthy contract negotiations with the SDCCD. The timing was fortuitous, since two pro-faculty challengers—Evonne Schulze and Fred Colby—had just been elected to the SDCCD Board of Trustees, with the backing of the AFT Guild and the Committee for Better Colleges (CBC), an independent faculty political action group. This disrupted the conservatives’ control of the board.
The bargaining issue of immediate priority for the AFT Guild was the elimination of the polarizing Schedule D pay scale, in which effort the bargaining team was led by President Schwartz. In the negotiations, the District agreed to eliminate Schedule D, as well as to grant successive eight and seven-percent pay increases during the following two years. Additionally, just as AB 1725—legislation which requires community college districts to review faculty performance routinely—passed, the AFT Guild pushed for and secured a faculty evaluation process, based on the university model, which still remains intact, 30 years later. Additional gains were made in defining the department chair structure, establishing a grievance procedure, and securing health benefits for faculty.
Despite residual factionalism in faculty ranks harbored by disgruntled CTA supporters, membership in the AFT Guild grew. Some of the more senior faculty who had been on the sidelines acknowledged the gains made by the AFT Guild and then signed membership cards. Most new faculty, hired in 1989 and afterward, who did not bear old grudges, also joined.
While the Executive Board’s main focus was on winning additional gains for the college faculty through collective bargaining, in 1990, the union also played an active role, along with the CBC, in the election of three more novices—Denise Ducheny, Maria Senour and Kara Kobey—to the SDCCD Board of Trustees. Liberals now gained control of all five Board seats.
Even as the Guild’s leadership evolved, Executive Board members grappled with diverging visions of the union’s future. Drawing on their experiences as veterans of the long battles for AFT Guild certification and of the initial collective bargaining struggles, Schwartz and Kuttnauer sought to keep the union focused on building its strength in numbers and in championing gains for college faculty. However, contentiousness over the bifurcation of faculty in the tenure-line and adjunct ranks and fairness in the distribution of wage and benefits gains proved irrepressible. Through the early 1990s, state budget allocations to the community colleges were lean. The reliance on adjunct faculty to offer sections increased, when hiring of tenure-line faculty dwindled, thereby lowering labor costs. While, by the nature of their positions, the tenure-line faculty were more vested in the colleges than the contingent faculty, many adjuncts resented the gaps in pay rates and expressed dissatisfaction with the union leadership, which they viewed as insensitive to their plight.
Meanwhile, a young, ambitious, and hard-charging Jim Mahler (City College, engineering/math faculty)—who represented the new generation of faculty of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and who had risen meteorically into the AFT Guild’s Executive Board, in 1987—began to advocate alternative visions. He argued for organizing outside of the college faculty bargaining unit by bringing SDCCD Continuing Education counselor faculty already in Local 4289 under the AFT Guild’s umbrella. Mahler did not view jurisdictional boundaries as barriers that could not be overcome by strategic organizing and creative interpretation of applicable rules.
Following a carefully plotted course, in Fall 1993, Mahler opted against running again as an Executive Board incumbent in the upcoming election. In March 1994, Schwartz and the incumbent board, minus Mahler, were reelected. During the following Summer, Schwartz was diagnosed with brain cancer. Kuttnauer stepped in as Acting President, and then, following Schwartz’s death in February 1995, assumed the presidency. As the election of 1996 approached, two slates of candidates vied for the Executive Board: Kuttnauer led the incumbent slate, while Mahler headed an insurgent coalition, which drew heavily from the younger generation. Following upon an intense campaign, Mahler and his insurgents were victorious.
Toward one big union! As the new AFT Guild President, Mahler made decisive changes in the structure of the local. Beyond merely changing the name of the old Executive Board to the Executive Council, he expanded the number of participants with the goal of having more diverse leadership from across the colleges. By 1998, Mahler struck agreement with the SDCCD that the AFT Guild would run a fair share election. Then, the AFT Guild Executive Council campaigned vigorously, leading to 77 percent faculty support in the balloting. All faculty—minus a few who file as dissenters—pay dues to the union for services rendered. The significant increase in revenue gave the AFT Guild the financial resources to hire staff and expand activities. Moreover, a significant number of faculty made voluntary dues payment to the Guild’s Committee on Political Education (COPE), its political campaign arm.
General membership meetings drew a broader cross section of both adjunct and tenure-line faculty from across the SDCCD. Mahler also forged close alliances with young allies on each of the college campuses to raise the union’s profile and service the contract effectively. Gradually an enlarged Executive Council began to reflect the gender and ethnic diversity of the San Diego region. Being a math whiz with a talent for deconstructing budgets, Mahler approached collective bargaining with a sound understanding of how the parties at the table could reach reasonable settlements, if they willed to do so. Since the political disposition of the governing board sets the tone for bargaining, the election of faculty-union-friendly pro-community college trustees became a priority. Mahler and the Executive Council swung into action. By 2006, all members of the SDCCD Board of Trustees had been elected with the AFT Guild’s endorsement and material campaign support. In this new political environment, the union supported mutual-gains bargaining as a more productive strategy than adversarial bargaining.
As Mahler and the Executive Council transformed many of the ways the union had conducted business and negotiated contracts, Mahler also moved to implement his vision of bringing new groups into the AFT Guild fold, with each group retaining its own bargaining unit identity. In the expanded AFT Guild structure, bargaining teams would be comprised of members from within each respective unit.
SDCCD classified employees. Mahler first set his sights on bringing the classified workers in the SDCCD into the AFT Guild. Now the teachers’ union local would broaden its base to include the range of office support, food service, bookstore, grounds keepers, and custodial workers across the district. The CSEA that had represented workers in the classified service for decades was vulnerable. Many members thought that the CSEA operated like a company union—that it was too close to the management. Bargaining on the pay scale yielded minimal gains. Job reclassifications for employees seeking to advance in rank seemingly were awarded only to favorites, which bred dissatisfaction.
Mahler and AFT Guild organizers reached out to the rank-and-file classified employees across the SDCCD, eventually convincing them, in 1998, to vote for CSEA decertification and for the certification of the AFT Guild as their new bargaining agent. The Guild then entered into collective bargaining with the District, with the Guild’s bargaining team being constituted of a diverse group of both faculty and classified Guild members. Among the big gains coming out of these negotiations were creation of a fair job reclassification process, substantial salary increases, introduction of sixteen-week sabbatical leaves, optional flexible workweek schedules, and upgrades of leave time and benefits, including life insurance, on par with the faculty CBA. Classified employees also gained seats on the AFT Guild’s Executive Council.
Continuing Education Counselors Then, during 2001, Mahler turned to organizing the SDCCD Continuing Education counselors—the first step in his vision of creating an umbrella union for bargaining groups of all district employees. There was a back story, which warrants summarization. These counselors had requested, as early as December 1992, to be transferred into the AFT Guild Local 1931 bargaining unit. At that time, Shirle Nester, then the president of the Continuing Education bargaining unit (AFT Local 4289), in a letter to SDCCD Chancellor Augustine Gallego, wrote that she supported the proposal for the modification of the Continuing Education bargaining unit for this purpose.
Chancellor Gallego, however, rejected the change. Continuing Education was funded by the state at a lower level than the colleges. He foresaw that creating an expanded AFT Guild organization with membership extending into Continuing Education would have institutional implications, not the least of which would be increased costs for faculty salaries and benefits.
Meanwhile, on the AFT Guild end, Jim Mahler proposed to the AFT Guild Executive Board, on which he served as the City College Vice President, that the Continuing Education counselors be incorporated into the 1931 bargaining unit; but the board did not concur. The majority of its members, at the time, envisioned that the change would upend the Guild’s collective bargaining strategy, especially given the salary differential between the units and the expectation that hard-won salary gains necessarily would flow disproportionately to this small group so that its members would gain parity, rather than being distributed more generally to the college faculty, a much larger group.
The Continuing Education Counselors, however, remained dissatisfied with their status and lobbied the successor AFT Local 4289 co-presidents Judy Quinton and Gary Gleckman to support a renewal of their request to switch over to the AFT Guild Bargaining unit. Quinton and Gleckman sent a letter, dated October 26, 1998, to Mahler (who had been elected AFT Guild President, in 1996, and who was eager to effect change), affirming that the Local 4289 Board “continues to support this action with the understanding that the AFT Guild agrees to accept the counselors.” Quinton and Gleckman later acknowledged that they had felt relief at the prospect that the dissident counselors would leave Local 4289 to join Local 1931.
Chancellor Gallego did not sway in his opposition to a change for the Continuing Education counselors, sparking a fight with the Guild. When AFT Guild organizers and the Continuing Education counselors appeared at an SDCCD Board of Trustees meeting, with television camera crews in tow, the chancellor was angered. Later, several of the SDCCD Trustees expressed support for the change, ultimately leading to a settlement with the Guild, which paved the way for the Continuing Education counselors to join Local 1931, in 2001. From among them, new Guild Executive Council members were selected.
Continuing Education Instructional Faculty Though the Local 4289 leadership conceded to the wishes of the Continuing Education counselors to break away and join the ranks of Local 1931, in 2001, those same leaders knew that to preserve Local 4289, that organization could not afford any further erosion in the membership ranks. Retaining the loyalty of the membership, however, proved problematic. Once it became known that the Local 1931 bargaining team had succeeded in gaining parity in the salary schedules of the Continuing Education counselors and the college counselors, as well as improved working conditions, in 2001, some Continuing Education instructional faculty studied the Guild’s contract and learned about the better salary schedule, benefits, and protections enjoyed across the board by the college faculty. In response, leaders of Local 4289, headed by Co-Presidents Gleckman and Quinton, created a counter narrative. They claimed to the members—especially to those in the adjunct ranks, who comprised the majority—that their own organization was more supportive of adjuncts than was Jim Mahler, then the president of Local 1931. If the membership reaffiliated with Local 1931, they warned, their priority re-hire rank contractual provision would be sacrificed, and the Continuing Education faculty would be overwhelmed in the larger unit. These expressions of concern for the vulnerability of the Continuing Education adjunct faculty, however, ultimately proved unsuccessful, as loyalty in the membership ranks had deteriorated. In contrast, the umbrella model for uniting SDCCD faculty in Local 1931 which Mahler was advancing seemed to have real momentum.
Meanwhile, AFT Guild organizers worked on overdrive, during 2008 and 2009, conducting two simultaneous campaigns. The focus first was to bring the Continuing Education classroom faculty over into Local 1931.
Given that their own base of support fast was evaporating, in mid-2008, the leaders of Local 4289 initiated discussion with Mahler about merging their organization with Local 1931. An agreement was struck between the parties, subject to ratification of the membership of Local 4289. In September 2008, the Continuing Education teaching faculty membership voted 97 percent in favor of joining Local 1931. Co-Presidents of Local 4289 Gleckman and Quinton—both contemplating retirement—consented to close-down Local 4289, in collaboration Mahler and the national AFT union.
Once the Continuing Education faculty joined the Guild, contract talks commenced. The bargaining proposal of the AFT Guild negotiating team was to achieve parity with the college faculty unit across the board, a goal which largely was achieved through collective bargaining, over the following six years. Mahler noted later that a few years of lean state budget allocations to the community colleges slowed the process down, but that salary parity finally was achieved, effective in January 2014. The higher percentage of adjunct faculty in the Continuing Education ranks, compared with City, Mesa, and Miramar Colleges, remains a problem. A heavy reliance of the SDCCD, as well as of other districts statewide, on contingent faculty is an ongoing concern and is a focus of the Guild’s political work, in league with the California Federation of Teachers. Reflecting the broadened membership base of the Guild, Continuing Education faculty have proportional representation on the Guild’s Executive Council.
GCCCD faculty. During the Spring of 2009, the AFT Guild also formally launched a decertification drive against the United Faculty organization in an effort to become the bargaining agent for the faculty of Grossmont and Cuyamaca Colleges. While a dissident adjunct faculty faction sought to qualify the California Teachers Association as the bargaining agent, under the rules of California’s Public Employees Relations Board (PERB), that group failed to gather sufficient valid signatures. In the balloting, GCCCD faculty voted by a nearly 2-1 margin for representation by the AFT Guild over the other options of No Union or continued United Faculty representation. This victory marked the first time that one faculty union local in California would have bargaining units in more than one community college district.
Following the PERB certification of the election results, in July, an AFT Guild bargaining team, including GCCCD and some seasoned SDCCD faculty, joined the GCCCD administration in bargaining a new faculty contract over a protracted three-and-a-half-year period. Since negotiations commenced just as the impact of the Great Recession of 2008 began to be widely felt, causing deep budget reductions in community college districts statewide, bargaining initially focused on non-economic items. Subsequently bargaining turned to development of a resource allocation formula, similar to that which earlier the AFT Guild and the SDCCD administration had created. That model, requiring full budgetary transparency, eventually provided for distribution of resources at levels agreed upon by the GCCCD and the AFT Guild, with the union retaining the right to redistribute is proportionate share as the union deemed appropriate. New non-economic benefits secured for faculty, by September 2014, included an early retirement incentive, an improved faculty evaluation process, equity in the allocation of summer and intersession assignments, and enhanced protections for faculty involved with disruptive students. The agreement was ratified by over 91% of the membership, during October 2014.
Retirees keep “thinking union!” With the AFT Guild membership growing to include faculty in the San Diego (SDCCD) and Grossmont-Cuyamaca (GCCCD) districts, along with classified professionals in the SDCCD, the idea of creating a chapter for retirees surfaced. Jim Mahler started the planning in discussion with Mary Rider, then an academic counselor at Grossmont College and a member of the AFT Guild Executive Council. In spring 2013, a year after Rider retired from Grossmont College, the launch occurred in earnest. Rider, with clerical support, contacted retired union members, by phone and emails, encouraging participation in this new organization. The nascent chapter’s first event was a luncheon, in June 2013, that was attended by over 35 retirees. Mahler and Rider discussed visions for the chapter and solicited interest from the participants. A task force, with representation from each the various constituent groups, was created for additional planning, including research on the activities and practices of similar AFT chapters around the state. Rider served as the task force lead person.
The new retiree organization was established as an AFT Guild unit designated as the AFT Guild Retiree Chapter, or AFT Local 1931R. An Executive Committee was formed to provide internal governance. Rider was selected to be the founding president. The mission and goals adopted for the chapter were similar to those of other chapters in the state, though, with the assistance of Mahler, they were tailored to coincide with the AFT Guild’s own standards. The goals include outreach and education for prospective retirees, social community building events, and political action. Rider was aware that the first two goals were critical to establishing and building a viable organization which would then be able to exert political pressure. The AFT Local 1931R is affiliated with the California Federation of Teachers and its Council of Retired Members.
In the effort to promote a sense of community well-being among chapter members, the Executive Committee planned pre-retirement workshops staged in the SDCCD and GCCCD. Topics addressed emotional, financial, and healthcare issues that retirees encounter. Additionally, the staging of semesterly luncheons, combined with membership meetings, nurtured social relations among participants and created the opportunity for the retiree members to converse with the chapter’s Executive Committee members.
The November 2016 election of Donald Trump as President of the US and the Republicans gaining control of both houses of Congress shocked many across the nation and sparked massive demonstrations against the Trump political agenda that promoted nationalism, white supremacy and race-baiting, nativism, and deregulation of the economy so as to enrichen the corporate sector. The AFT Local 1931R Executive Committee committed to engage members of the chapter in addressing the nation’s political reality. Outreach by the Executive Committee to the membership, via email, however, drew relatively few responses and yielded little substantive feedback. Only a few members, at the time, stated their interest in pursuing political action. As president of the chapter, however, Rider joined in efforts coordinated by the Guild’s Government Relations Committee to lobby state legislators on education issues and related quality-of-life and equity concerns.
Retrospectively, Rider judged that the first Executive Committee made significant progress on the first two goals, but she stated that she held out hope that future members would be more motivated and proactive in political work around education, health care, and retirement issues.
Rider was succeeded, in January 2017, by former AFT Local 4289 co-presidents Gary Gleckman and Judy Quinton, who were chosen as co-president and vice-president respectively, without opposition. It soon became clear in some of his remarks to the Executive Committee and chapter members that, in retirement, Gleckman sought to use this new position to challenge Jim Mahler. So, while the Local 1931R chapter was established under the auspices of the AFT Guild, Gleckman asserted to the Executive Committee that, by virtue of his being the Retiree Chapter president, he did not report to Mahler, the Guild President. During their term, Gleckman and Quinton conducted retirement workshops and continued to host retirement luncheons and membership meetings. However, they proceeded surreptitiously to change the chapter’s bylaws relating to membership eligibility, without even requesting the required approval of the Guild Executive Council. Once Gleckman and Quinton altered this language, they recruited members, including some people who had never been employed in either the San Diego or Grossmont Districts, though they were ineligible, according to the provisions of the original bylaws. Thus, they tried to inflate the number of chapter members, presumably affording Glickman and Quinton a base of power as AFT union leaders. Without cause, they also rejected the applications of some faculty who applied for membership in the chapter. After learning of these actions, in August 2018, Mahler challenged Gleckman and Quinton, who threatened to resign, taking with them two other Executive Committee members. Mahler called their bluff.
To restore order in the retiree chapter, in August 2018, Mahler, as AFT Guild President, made interim appointments of Susan Morgan, a recently retired Continuing Education professor of English for Speakers of Other Languages and a former AFT Guild Executive Council member, as President and Mary Rider as Vice President. Soon thereafter, however, Rider resigned, when she left from San Diego. Mahler then appointed Anita Martinez, a retired executive secretary in the Grossmont College President’s Office, to serve as Vice President. These appointments were to fill the vacated seats until the next regularly scheduled election. That election occurred at the general membership meeting, in January 2019. Chapter members elected Morgan and Martinez as president and vice president, respectively; Gretchen Bitterlin as Secretary; and Linda Snider as Treasurer. Their selection was by unanimous consent. Two years later, the same Executive Committee members were reelected by consensus.
Working collaboratively with the Executive Committee, Morgan brought new energy to the chapter in conducting regular meetings of the Executive Committee and some general membership meetings. She encouraged members participate in various social activities, including organized walks. Meanwhile, the bylaws were reviewed to clear up the discrepancies on eligibility for membership in the chapter. Morgan’s presidency, however, was complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted the nation and world, by mid-March 2020. Unable to meet face-to-face, the chapter’s Executive Committee nevertheless convened regularly, using Zoom video-conferencing technology. Morgan, then, promptly emailed minutes of each of these proceedings to members. General membership meetings were suspended as a practical matter. While retirees generally were isolated at home, with Morgan’s leadership to promote sociability, the chapter offered members Zoom access to yoga sessions and a gardening workshop. Meanwhile, Morgan took the lead on helping members in navigating technology to book appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations, once those were available, beginning in January 2021. Given the limitations on face-to-face interactions among people during the pandemic, efforts to engage retirees in the 2020 local, state, and national elections were limited by the circumstance. Yet, Morgan encouraged members of the local to participate in a letter-writing campaign, conducted by the national organization Vote Forward, which targeted low-proclivity voters in critical states where margins of victory were anticipated to be narrow. Finally, Morgan and the Executive Committee organized two forums: the first, conducted by the League of Women Voters, addressed the pros and cons of a California ballot proposition, in November 2020, which would have amended property tax law in California, with resulting augmented funding to be targeted to benefit public schools and underfunded local governments; the second, conducted by the Anti-Defamation League, discussed the nature and prevalence of hate crimes locally and nationwide. Through such types of activities, the retiree chapter has endeavored to provide its members engagement in advancing the well-being of our community and in thinking union!
The on-going harsh impact of the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated that Morgan conduct the chapter’s Spring Semester 2022 membership meeting in the Zoom online format. The luncheon was postponed. Finally, in March 2022, once public health COVID-19 protocols permitted, many of the members enjoyed a meal together and socializing at the Handlery Hotel. Two speakers—Judd Curran, a professor of geography at Grossmont College, and Katherine Harrison, a representative of the San Diego 350 organization—addressed the audience on the topic of global climate change; differential impacts of the ecological crisis on human societies along race and class lines; and actions that San Diegans may take to inform themselves further and promote environmental sustainability. Several group-walks also were organized at various sites around the county. Early in the following summer, Morgan resigned from the chapter for personal reasons.
In August 2022, Mahler recruited Jonathan McLeod to serve as Interim President of the chapter. McLeod, a member of the Retirees Chapter, had been a history professor at San Diego Mesa College and had long served on the AFT Guild’s Executive Council and its predecessor, prior to 1996, the Executive Board, especially in roles of political action and government relations.
At this juncture, amidst an unpredictable pandemic environment, the Chapter’s Executive Committee planned general membership meetings at Ventura Cove Park, along Mission Bay. The setting was dramatic, and the outdoor venue allowed for membership to meet again on a regular basis. Members of the Executive Committee took the lead in organizing more group walks, meditation sessions, a public information forum on the newly created San Diego Community Power agency providing electricity to the residents of the City of San Diego, and the like. With critical decisions facing voters in local, state, and congressional elections, in the November 2022 general elections, the Executive Committee recruited members to participate in a nationwide postcard-writing campaign led by Activate America. The chapter also convened another forum featuring a representative of the League of Women Voters to review with participants the several propositions on the California ballot. On several occasions, during the Fall, a few members participated in picket lines in support of both the striking machinists at the Penske Mercedes Benz dealership in Kearny Mesa and, at UCSD, the striking academic employees of the University of California system. To cap off a busy semester, in December, members enjoyed a Happy Hour social gathering at a local restaurant.
In January 2023, at the chapter’s annual luncheon and business meeting, participants elected members to serve on the Executive Committee for the next two-year term. The membership voted unanimously for McLeod, as President, Martinez as Vice President, Lou Ann Gibson, as Treasurer and Membership Chair, and Gretchen Bitterlin as Secretary.
The chapter membership is looking forward to continuing on-going successful activities and hosting more forums on topics related to retirement planning, health care insurance options, and electoral politics, as well as collaborating with the Guild on education and climate justice issues.
Conclusion. Through this narrative, readers may trace the evolution of the AFT Guild, from its improbable beginnings, in the 1960s, to its current position of strength and considerable influence locally and statewide on higher education issues, almost half a century later. Why is this story important? Most of the present AFT Guild members were not participants in the early history. For today’s union members, it is empowering to acquire understanding that the wages, working conditions, and protections which are part of our contracts are in place not by some entitlement, but because of the union founders’ dedication to the principles of unionism, their hard work in organizing and winning the loyalty of fellow employees, their struggles—often against great odds—to negotiate contracts that would improve the lives of teachers and classified employees, and their commitment to enforcing the CBA and assuring that members’ due process rights are upheld.
It is also important to recognize the contribution of the recently created Retiree Chapter of the AFT Guild, which expands our membership base and strengthens our union. The knowledge and experience of members, stretching back over decades, is valuable in informing Guild members’ planning and transitioning into retirement. The retirees also have wisdom to share and the power of volunteering, as the AFT Guild builds coalitions with the greater San Diego community.
In an era in which billionaire self-described “education reformers,” who have unprecedented influence over federal, state, and local government leaders and higher education system administrators, consistently seek to weaken or destroy public sector unionism, we need to know our own union’s history so as to be able to protect our collective rights and to assure that we of the union have our rightful place in the decision-making processes for public higher education.