Helping CTA Members Build Power

CSO members work to support coalitions of educators unions

By Mindy Bartlett

Local leaders around the state are expanding power, finding mutual support and strengthening their relationships through Coalition Building.

Riverside County Coalition of Presidents

This is a place where good ideas are shared, such as best practices for site visits and fresh ways to have social events, as well as being able to run bargaining/contractual issues by each other, allowing for brainstorming and finding creative solutions.

The Riverside County Coalition of Presidents (RCCP) has been meeting regularly for years (since at least 2009), previously in person. Now, they come together at one meeting per month, generally by zoom, sharing common challenges and positive experiences. 

Throughout the year, they alternate between president report-outs/idea-sharing and strategic trainings/guest speakers, such as community schools, budget, member benefits, or special education issues. The coalition members say their local CSO has been supporting them from the inception, facilitating guest speakers and providing important trainings as needed. Their support network continues to be flexible as necessary, including pivoting to meeting weekly at times during shelter-in-place orders.

Trina Gonzales-Alesi – President, Desert Sands Teachers Association and RCCP Chair

“The value of our group is to be able to network with other presidents and hold our districts accountable when we can verify the facts with other chapters.” At the most recent meeting, “several of our presidents were on Spring Break (myself and Karen Johnson included) and yet many attended the meeting anyway. I think this speaks to how valuable we find these meetings. One really big reason behind our success is our amazing note taker, Karen. She takes such very thorough notes that presidents who have to miss rely on them to be up-to-speed on what was shared.”

Karen Johnson – President Palm Springs Teachers Association

“When I started as a new President, Trina reached out and invited me to a meeting (and drove me there). I saw the value of this group. I appreciate the camaraderie and information that comes from these meetings.”

Wendy Eccles – CTA Board Member, District K, and former president, NEA-Jurupa local

“It’s really given us a place to support one another, in being able to share out what’s going on, find commonalities and discover how we can work together to find solutions for the issues we’re facing. “

David O’Rafferty – President, NEA-Jurupa

“Being a new president this year, I’ve noticed a benefit in having constant touchpoints.” As things happen, he doesn’t have to continue to catch coalition presidents up, because they’ve been checking in regularly with each other throughout the year.

Mike Kolonics – President, Alvord Educators Association

“Anytime I’m having a difficult problem, I can check in with the group and find someone else who’s probably gone through it at some point.” Recently, Mike spent the weekend at a CTA conference, with bargaining scheduled the following Monday. While visiting with Coalition Presidents at the conference, a conversation around leaves came up. “We were discussing bereavement leave and someone mentioned miscarriage. We took that idea to the table and got that into our contract language the very next day.”

Hesperia RRC Presidents Meeting

At times, being a president can be a challenging, isolating experience, especially for new presidents. In response, the Hesperia RRC presidents meeting, managed by over a dozen presidents coordinated out of the Hesperia RRC with two CTA staff support, makes it a point to prioritize mentoring new presidents.

Naomi Gansky – President, Helendale Professional Teachers’ Association

“It’s my first year as president and these meetings have been so valuable to me. We’re a small district and our voice as a collective in the High Desert is so much greater than we are individually. In a recent monthly meeting with my district, a question came up about sub pay in the area that they didn’t know the answer to. I sent a text to the group and had an answer within 10 minutes from half the High Desert Presidents. For me, that was such a feeling of power; to show that our chapters are connected, talking regularly, and to show the district they’re not just talking to our small local, they’re dealing with a whole cluster that has all of this backing.

Long-term Presidents credit former CSO members Dawn Murray and Bill Riblett with organizing the regular presidents meeting many years ago.  

East Bay Coalition for Student Success (EBCSS)

The EBCSS is one of the (if not the) largest leader Coalitions in the state, with around 20 local chapters committed, including all presidents and several executive board members and bargaining/organizing chairs). They meet about once a month during the school year, sometimes in person, sometimes via zoom, and maintain regular communication throughout the year via email and text.

Vitally, they meet at least once before each school year to plan strategically for coordinated bargaining and shared negotiation goals that they can collaboratively stand behind.

The powerful coalition is coordinated across the East San Francisco Bay Area, and growing, in conjunction with the Concord RRC, Eden RRC, United Teachers of Richmond and Cordelia RRC, and seven CSO staff support. CTA leaders say their CSO support helps facilitate themes, provides essential resources and trainings.

CSO PCS staff that cover the coalition chapters meet monthly to prepare for meetings and training for the East Bay Coalition partners. The staff works with the members to ensure that the goals for the bargaining year are all in agreement with their local leaders, including executive boards and rep councils. Staff recognizes that the locals gain strength from each other and build power together!

Celia Medina-Owens – President, Pittsburg Education Association

“Because of our geographic proximity, we’re able to build relationships based on common goals to improve working conditions for teachers and learning conditions for our students, regardless of where our coalition chapters are in the zip code.

When we’re collaborating during bargaining – such as on COLA, medical benefits, improved working conditions – it’s for the betterment of our communities to work together to ensure all our students have equal access to public education.

Before the coalition, we discussed that local superintendents often meet regularly and collaborate with each other around bargaining. An a-ha moment was when we then asked ourselves: Why aren’t we doing that?”

Bob Carson – President, Antioch Education Association

For Bob, there’s no doubt that partnering with the Coalition has helped build local power in bargaining and added that their CSO PCS staff should be commended for the support they’ve provided.

In our coalition, “we have solidarity and support each other at rallies. It’s a cool thing to see members from neighboring chapters with their signs to support you. It’s empowering!”

“We went years trying to get service credit [for all years of experience]. Our first year in the coalition, we made that one of our goals. Then, once one chapter got it, the other districts had to compete with it, and then most of them followed suit shortly thereafter.”

Charles Shannon – President, Orinda Educators Association

“We’ve always known that our local superintendents get together. As a result, we understood that we needed to have coordinated bargaining in our entire region.  We needed to meet with regional chapter leaders on a regular basis and be guided by CSO staff to help us in negotiations and to gather data that was not easy to obtain. We come to our meetings with information to share.”

They share pertinent data, such as contracts, salary schedules, and progress on negotiations. They often ask each other, “What is your district saying to you?”

As part of the coalition, leaders coordinated a plan for engaging parents and other community partners, including funding from CTA grants to write an organizing plan, provide release time to visit all of their sites and the money needed for supplies for public actions. Part of their effort was to clarify what COLA is and how that is factored into funding for schools, including teacher salaries.

“We began to meet with parent clubs and had virtual townhall meetings open to the community. We prepared slides with facts on our why, our asks and how things were going. What we wanted was what’s best for kids. We ask them what questions they have to help guide what we share with them. Parents understood – if you can’t retain quality teachers, and have continuity for your students, then the quality of education is going to suffer.”

The cost of living in the region (as in many regions throughout the state) is very expensive and only increasing. Once the parents understood that teacher salaries were not keeping pace with COLA, it really helped. They made it easy, providing a QR code for parents leading to their website, providing a Q&A, the district’s own budget and a petition for community members to sign up to support the teachers – so they always knew how many community members were there to support them.

Highlighting the importance of sharing how districts are funded and message framing, Charles explains, “We helped parents understand and say ‘COLA,’ not just ‘teacher raises.’”

“We wanted to keep Orinda strong, keep our good teachers, attract the best, and we let parents know that we needed their support in order to do that.”

An unexpected, but positive opportunity was that by reaching out to parents, community organizations and by joining other coalitions outside of the education profession (including service workers of all types), they’ve also been able to give back and support those workers in their negotiations when they’ve needed it.

According to Charles, the road to where they are now took some time, but it’s absolutely worth it. “The [CSO] staff really demystified the bargaining process (including letter writing to the school board, mediation and fact finding), so that we could successfully educate and organize our members. That helped us have leverage to begin to call out the district when they put out misinformation or violated our rights.

We’ve been working with our CTA staff for years and have loved working with them. It’s just incredible what they offer. Their trainings are exceptional.  When they plan for a training, they give you what is essential and catered specifically for what we need and considering all of our limited time. “

To any other chapters considering building a coalition, Charles encourages you to, “take a leap of faith”

“It can be scary when you’re asking [the district] for big things. It really adds validity and builds trust when you’re working with and hearing from all of the other chapters. These are hard things, especially when your district attacks you. Before, when we were negotiating alone (without the East Bay Coalition) we were always doing it on our own. It’s different now.”