By UESF President Lita Blanc
Republished from the Summer 2017 San Francisco Educator
In spite of the comforting familiarity of the yearly rituals of graduations, farewell letters, and packing up of classrooms, this June marks the end of a school year that was marked by the unexpected electoral victory of Donald Trump and the rising resistance to his administration’s attempts to roll back decades of social gains.
A year ago, we did not know how significant our dual commitment to increasing member engagement and to strengthening our coalition work would be. The school year began with our back-to-school blitz and the August Organizing/Political Academy which laid the groundwork for important local and statewide electoral wins. We were able to elect our four candidates to the Board of Education, elect progressive candidates to the Board of Supervisors, and pass Prop. 55.
Public awareness of the affordability crisis and the ongoing teacher shortage were such that, even as we were absorbing the shock of Trump’s win, the UESF Bargaining Team got a 2% raise for all UESF members in our meet and confer on wages. Following that, for the first time ever, members took the bargaining survey online, paving the way for online voting for our affiliate elections.
In January, hundreds of UESF members participated in three days of resistance: The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) Day of Action on January 19th, Inauguration Day protests, and the Women’s March. As a next step, together with Bay Resistance, UESF helped bring over 1,200 people to the March 4th training on immigrant rights and resistance.
This new wave of activism was a springboard to bring educators into motion in support of our contract fight. Shortly after bargaining began, UESF organizers fanned out to school sites to help UBCs set up communication trees and strategize around member engagement. On April 11th, highlighting the connection between Betsy DeVos’s privatization plans and SFUSD’s proposed cuts to school sites, UESF members held a double protest: First at the Federal building and then at district headquarters. While the rallies were spirited, the turnout was relatively small. We realized that we had to double down on outreach to school sites while continuing to get out specific information about bargaining to all members.
The UESF negotiating team has put forth a robust set of proposals: An 18% across the board raise, a significant increase in the district’s share of dependent benefits, improved language for the implementation of inclusive practices, clarification of workload in Special Education, better training and increased access to Pupil Services supports for Safe and Supportive Schools, and clearer contract language on the rights of itinerant teachers, teacher librarians, and guidance counselors to prep periods and a duty-free lunch.
The unprecedented turnout for our May 9th rally was an indication that a growing portion of our membership is ready to fight for a fair contract. Nearly 750 teachers, paraprofessionals, and supporters from over 90 schools and departments joined in. The many hand-made signs, the great number of newer educators, and the energy of the rally all point to an increased militancy among UESF members.
It is in that context that in May the UESF Assembly agreed that if SFUSD does not come to an agreement with UESF on contract proposals that addresses our needs, the UESF leadership will be authorized to include a strike vote in our organizing plan. This plan will also include outreach to sites and the training of new leaders.
While we are organizing for a fair contract, we will also continue to fight alongside our allies, such as Bay Resistance, the Close the Gap coalition, AROS, and the California Coalition for Community Schools. The struggle for justice in our schools cannot be separated from the fight for justice in our communities and across our country.
Resistance to Trump’s attacks has energized us. Dedication to our students continues to motivate us. A commitment to collective action will empower us. Together, we can and will win a fair contract!