Dear Editor- When Did Union Become a Dirty Word?

The ongoing conversation in our community about the parent-funded “adjuncts” working at El Marino has raised a number of difficult issues for CCUSD.

1. Does a regular paycheck change someone’s status from a “volunteer” to an “employee”?
2. When parent groups fund-raise and place people in our classrooms, should they retain control over those employees or should the district be the employer of record?
3. Who is legally responsible for the actions of these employees: the parent groups or CCUSD?
4. Will parent groups continue to fund-raise if control of these programs shifts to CCUSD?
5. Does CCUSD need a consistent set of rules for all parent groups, or can policies be set site by site according to each school’s particular issues?
6. When does it become an educational fairness issue when students at School A have classroom aides while students at School B do not?

One of our school district’s greatest strengths is the support we get from our parents and from our community. In recent years we’ve passed a bond and a parcel tax, and as the Great Recession has squeezed school funding in California our parents have stepped up again. One can only applaud that effort.

But the anti-union rhetoric that has accompanied this conversation is a surprise to me. CCFT represents teachers and nurses; ACE represents support staff. One of our responsibilities is to make sure that people working in our schools are represented. From time to time we seek clarification about particular employees’ status.

Community members may disagree with some union positions and proposals——that’s nothing new——but the attacks on ACE and on their president, Debbie Hamme, are unlike anything I’ve ever seen in our community and I’ve been living and working here since 1979.

Employee unions are service organizations. Just this past month, CCFT has written a check to our Education Foundation (we help sponsor their annual “Tribute to the Stars” event), a check to cover the annual scholarship we award to a deserving CCHS graduate, and a check to our state organization as we work to get the “Millionaires’ Tax” initiative on the ballot in November. ( If passed, CCUSD would receive an additional 2.4 million dollars each year, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.)

Both CCFT and ACE bargain collectively so that our members receive competitive salaries and benefits and have working conditions that enable us to be successful with Culver City’s students. When our members face obstacles, either at work or with personal issues, we provide support. Neither union has old guys in suits smoking cigars and making deals in a back room. CCFT: we’re your teachers and nurses. ACE: they’re your school’s administrative assistants, cafeteria workers, maintenance staff, custodians, drivers and instructional aides.

Each of us has chosen work that takes us into our schools on a daily basis. We’re on the front lines and one of our union slogans is “Making a Difference Every Day”. And when CCUSD came to us and asked for unpaid furlough days to get them through this crisis, both ACE and CCFT agreed. Our members saved CCUSD millions of dollars by donating 9 unpaid furlough days over these past two years.

In the weeks ahead CCUSD will need to make some tough decisions about these parent-funded programs. CCUSD board members and district administration will listen to parents, they’ll find out what the law requires, and they’ll provide the leadership and direction our schools need. In the meantime, though, can we cool it a little on the anti-union rhetoric? Schools work best when we can forge positive partnerships between parents, teachers, support staff and district management.

Finally, those of us working in our schools, whether we’re in a classroom or working in the cafeteria, try each day to treat each and every student with respect. Modeling respectful behavior is what we do. As our community works through these and other issues, let’s remember that Golden Rule we teach and live in our schools: Always treat others the way you’d like to be treated.”

david mielke
president, culver city federation of teachers

www.culvercitysymphony.org

1 Comment

  1. The most important question, which tellingly is not included in Mielke’s letter, is what is best for the students?

    The unions is being criticized for asserting power in a way that conflicts with the interests of the people it serves.

    Our kids benefit from the adjuncts. The Association of Classified Employees is effectively working to eliminate (or at best greatly reduce) that benefit to the children.

    It should come as no surprise to school unions that families in Culver City have put quality of eduction first, and they are passionate about their children’s education. The sad surprise for many parents is that our unions do not feel the same way.

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