Several concerned ACC employees met one afternoon in September, 1998, to organize a local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL/CIO. Representatives of the Texas Federation of Teachers and the Austin Federation of Teachers explained the purpose, structure, and strategy of a union of employees in higher education. They were basically to amplify the voice of employees in decisions relevant to them and the people they work hard to serve. By the end of the meeting, we took the plunge and became a PEG (Professional Educators' Group), an auxiliary of the Texas Federation of Teachers. We quickly began recruiting members and started thinking of ways that we, as professional educators, could correct some of the problems that our trustees and administrators had caused the college, its students, and the citizen taxpayers who support it. Unfortunately, the American Federation of Teachers would not permit us, as a PEG, to organize non-teaching employees, but we intended to change that situation.
During the 1998-99 academic year, we concentrated our efforts and resources on surveying all ACC employees to determine their perceptions about the College, obstacles they encountered in trying to do their jobs, and remedies. An extensive survey went out in October and nearly 500 responses came back. It was amazing how eagerly employees not only answered the questions we asked but took the time to write out comments. To no one's surprise, the survey showed that ACC's employees took a great deal of pride in their work at the College and were very frustrated by an administration that would not listen to them and bullied them. In February 1999 we presented the data from the survey to the Board of Trustees. They did not reply officially, but it was clear that we had their attention. We also held a press conference to inform the community about the troubled state of the College. In subtle but definite ways, we began to see responses from the Board and the administration to our concerns. Consequently, Union membership grew as employees realized that even without striking and picketing, a professional educators' union in Texas could make a difference.
Late in the spring and early in the summer of 1999, the Union made an important decision and took on another project. The decision was to step up the organizational ladder and gain more autonomy by becoming an American Federation of Teachers Organizing Committee. That meant higher dues in some cases, but it also gave us more resources and put us closer to being a full-blown "local." Now we could define our own membership; consequently, all non-administrative employees of ACC were eligible for membership. After all, the various employee groups had much in common and could support one another even on issues unique to particular ones. We held our first elections for officers and chose Maxine Montgomery Chairperson and Morgan Stout Treasurer. The project was a newsletter reporting on meetings of the Board of Trustees. Eyes on the Board reports to all College employees on Board action-or inaction. It was a big hit and led to a second newsletter called the ACC Observer.
As the Fall 1999 semester approached, we launched a recruitment drive for new members. Maxine Montgomery asked College president Richard Fonte for permission to set up a table at the general assembly so that we could distribute information about the ACC/AFT to employees and explain the many benefits the Union had to offer. Through the College's lawyer, Fonte refused, despite allowing other outside organizations to do so. Another administrator tried to prevent the ACC/AFT from putting information into employee mailboxes while allowing other "non-College" information to be distributed that way. The Union's attorney, Martha Owen, advised that these actions were illegal; accordingly, the ACC/AFT filed a lawsuit against the College. In a hearing, Judge Scott McCown suggested that the administration cooperate with the Union. When they refused, he issued a restraining order permitting the Union to distribute information. Subsequently, the Board of Trustees signed an agreement with the Union that recognized our legal rights. This was a major victory, one that sent a resounding message to the administration and Board of Trustees to treat its employees with respect. At a party on August 27, sponsored by the Physicians Network, we celebrated last year's achievements and geared up for more POSITIVE changes this coming year. Who said that school union in Texas has no power!
Power comes through united action. ACC/AFT has shown, even in its infancy, the truth in that principle. We non-administrative employees have much to offer the College as it searches for better, more effective ways of fulfilling its purpose of providing quality education and skills training to the citizens of the greater Austin area. Our history is short, but the future is long and bright. But we must all work together.
During the 1999-2000 school year, we surveyed the adjunct faculty and presented the results to the Board. In 2002, ACC/AFT sought to determine satisfaction among all College employees in 16 specific work-related areas. To partially fulfill this objective, the Union designed and distributed an "Issues" Survey to employees who attended ACC's Fall 2002 General Assembly. Respondents reported their greatest areas of concern were ACC's Leadership/Management, Salary, and ACC's Organizational Structure. Other areas of concern were Evaluations, Working Conditions. Hiring Practices, and Course Scheduling.
In October, 2003 the American Federation of Teachers and the Texas Federation of Teachers awarded ACC/AFT with a full Union charter as Local 6249, affiliated with the AFL-CIO. ACC/AFT President from 2001-2003, Myra Bradley, and 2003-2004 President Mark Goodrich accepted the charter at a special ceremony on January 30, 2004.
The Union's COPE Committee (Committee on Political Education) has worked tirelessly in the political arena, pursuing opportunities to support the College's mission and operations. Specifically, the Union has campaigned for various Board candidates and worked on behalf of tax, bond, and annexation elections. In 2000, we endorsed Barbara Mink for the ACC Board of Trustees and she won in a runoff. In 2003, the Union provided labor and leadership in a successful tax and bond election that resulted in significant revenue for the College's operations, and bonds for building and expansion projects. The leadership of ACC/AFT President Myra Bradley from 2001-03 was a force in these efforts, organizing sign-making, phone banks and many other strategies. In 2004, the Union supported a successful annexation campaign that resulted in Del Valle ISD joining the ACC district. Terry Thomas, President of ACC/AFT in 2004-05, led the charge to lead volunteers for the referendum, regardless of Union membership. Also in 2004 we endorsed Veronica Rivera, Jeffrey Richard, and Rafael Quintanilla and they all won seats. In 2005 the Union supported a successful annexation election that resulted in all of the City of Austin joining the ACC taxing district. In 2006 we endorsed Dr. James McGuffee, Allen Kaplan and Barbara Mink. All three won seats! COPE Chairperson from 2004-07, Paula Robertson-Rose, has been instrumental in these elections as well. In 2008, we endorsed Tim Mahoney, John-Michael Cortez, and Raul Alvarez. All 3 won seats!! In 2010 we endorsed Lupe Sosa and Vic Villarreal and both won seats! MANY Union members gave their time and money during these elections and without this combination of leadership and teamwork, none of these objectives would have been achieved.
All of these candidates that have won seats on the Board of Trustees have made significant contributions to the employees at ACC and we are grateful.
The next elections are in 2014, and you better believe that we'll be there to make our voice heard! Please join us. There is power in collective action.