By David Yancey, Retired SJCC History Faculty and AFT 6157 Past President
Our union’s history with the American Federation of Teachers/California Federation of Teachers began in the late 1990s. Mark Newton, a biology professor who possessed empathy, patience, intelligence, and a deep abiding sense of fairness, spearheaded a movement to form a faculty union that would provide unity and strength for faculty. Newton, along with several other faculty from both colleges organized a functioning union. This union, for all its strengths and new ideas, still faced the same challenges: little power to promote and implement faculty needs.
The game had to change, and that change began with affiliation with a larger union. The best choice was the AFT/CFT, who had a significant community college membership, and were affiliated with a major national union, the AFL-CIO.
Prior to affiliation with AFT, our faculty union was affiliated with the California Teachers Association It just wasn’t the right fit as their membership was primarily K-12. After withdrawing from the CTA, we became an independent “union,” calling ourselves the Faculty Association. Being an independent “union” didn’t work very well. A major disadvantage was the lack of an amplified voice in decisions that affected faculty work lives. The district administration and its elected Board of Trustees simply ignored faculty concerns.
Then came the affiliation with AFT/CFT. We became the San Jose/Evergreen Federation of Teachers, AFT 6157.
We became more empowered; we had statewide support; we participated in legislative advocacy campaigns that improved the lives of community college faculty. We were also able to hire professional staff in the form of a full-time Executive Director who oversaw the union’s operations, negotiations, member organizing, and the enforcement of our contractual rights.
The affiliation with AFT/CFT also gave our union a membership in the South Bay Labor Council (SBLC), which represented over 150,000 union workers in the greater San Jose/South Bay area. This added to our political power because every member of the San Jose/Evergreen District Board of Trustees went to the SBLC to seek support for their election campaigns. Because of our seat at the SBLC, our faculty voice became even stronger in district conversations because Trustees and would-be Trustees knew, if they didn’t have AFT 6157’s support, they wouldn’t get SBLC’s support.
This power gave the union the ability to dramatically improve the rights of all faculty, to increase faculty pay, including moving toward equity pay for associate faculty. Medical benefits were protected and partial benefits were extended to associate faculty. We now also have a Retiree chapter for faculty retirees.
AFT 6157’s leadership from Mark Newton to David Yancey, to Paul Fong, to current president, Jessica Breheny have worked very hard to further faculty’s voice in the San Jose Evergreen Community College District. All of these faculty members and scores of others, as members of the union’s executive board, negotiators, grievance officers, have dedicated themselves to the building of a better union for all faculty.