Leslie Simon (left), 40-year City College of San Francisco faculty member, joins nearly 100 supporters in a strike outside the Ocean Campus in San Francisco, Calif. Wednesday, April 27, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Hundreds turn out for CCSF faculty union’s first-ever strike

“Strike!” the teachers shouted, and strike they did.

Most City College of San Francisco campuses, including in the Mission, Bayview, Civic Center and at Ocean Avenue, were met Wednesday with picketing faculty and shouting students, raising a ruckus for raises and protesting class cuts.

Despite the pouring rain, as many as a hundred CCSF supporters gathered at the main campus on Ocean Avenue in the morning, marching in a circle in front of the school’s science building beneath its trademark sign, “The Truth Shall Make You Free.”

By noon, the sun shone and those 400 or so faculty and students converged at CCSF’s Civic Center campus to protest against what they called unfair contract negotiations with the college administration.

The strike marked the first in the union’s existence. That union, American Federation of Teachers 2121, said teachers have not received a raise since 2007.

“We’re living in the most expensive city in the United States,” said AFT 2121 Vice President Alan D’Souza, a City College librarian.

Without adequate pay, the college saw a “precipitous drop” in teachers and faculty, he said, with faculty fleeing by the hundreds.

CCSF officials have offered to boost faculty salaries by 7.19 percent over two years, though faculty would not receive two percent of that increase after next school year unless the college is able to increase its enrollment.

The union shot that offer down, arguing the raise would amount to a 1.7 percent increase over 2007 wages unless enrollment increased at the school.

CCSF spokesperson Jeff Hamilton said the school lost as many as 25,000 students since 2012, around when the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges threatened to revoke the school’s accreditation.

Before the strike, CCSF’s interim Chancellor Susan Lamb announced classes would be canceled and campuses closed Wednesday because the school would not have the necessary personnel onsite to maintain and operate the buildings.

Students were notified of the closures by email and text message alerts.

“We’re disappointed that the union has chosen to implement its illegal strike today,” Lamb said in a statement, adding that Wednesday was “the first day of registration for the 2016 fall semester and as such is a priority enrollment opportunity for veterans, disabled students” formerly incarcerated students and foster youths.

However, CCSF disability services staff member Will Sprecher told the school’s student newspaper, The Guardsman, that “registration is not affected by the strike.”

Students won’t be able to meet with their counselors in person, “which is not good,” Sprecher said, but veterans and students with disabilities can still register online.

Jesse Geist, 33, is a CCSF psychology student and U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and sustained a traumatic brain injury. At Wednesday’s strike at the main campus, he said he wants the administration to settle its differences with the faculty.

“I’m missing my classes today,” Geist said, carrying a “STRIKE!” sign in one hand, and his service dog Stella in the other. “I fought for my country. I shouldn’t have to fight for my school.”

The union also opposes class cuts, which lead to less jobs for part-time faculty. Hamilton, the CCSF spokesperson, said CCSF cut 270 classes from 2013-14, 327 classes from 2014-15, and 223 classes from the current school year.

Those classes are variable, and sometimes are put back on the schedule the next year. Notably, for-credit classes (an avenue for university transfer students) are most affected, Hamilton said, whereas non-credit classes remain much less affected.

The chancellor also decried the day’s strike as “illegal,” which the union denied.

Many groups and politicos turned out for the protest: the Chinese Progressive Association, Teamsters Joint Council 7, CCSF board trustee John Rizzo, Supervisor Jane Kim, Supervisor candidate Hilary Ronen, former Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, former supervisor Bevan Dufty, CCSF Board of Trustees candidate Tom Temprano, Board of Supervisors President London Breed, and the labor council’s Tim Paulson, among others.

Ammiano asked, “Where’s the Mayor’s Office?” and added that in his day as supervisor, The City intervened to help create labor peace with the local school district, among other groups.

Oliver Wilson, a 23-year-old computer programming student at CCSF, said that because of the administration’s budget cuts, “I don’t get the one-on-one time with teachers that I need.”

He also said teachers who struggle financially struggle in the classroom negatively impact his education. “As long as they’re getting paid, you’re creating a better environment.”

Hamilton warned that a state law cushioning CCSF’s finances in the wake of enrollment decline (enrollment determines funding) will sunset in 2017.

“That makes for a $25-30 million drop in revenue,” he said.

Lamb said the raises the union want are too expensive.

“City College and its Board of Trustees would like to give its faculty the 18.19 percent raises their union is demanding,” she said in a statement, adding, “We recognize their valuable contributions to this 80-year-old learning institution. Unfortunately, salary raises at that level are not possible, given the college’s financial situation.”

The campuses are expected to reopen Thursday.

Below, a brief video interview with CCSF student Oliver Wilson, on how faculty and administration negotiations affect his education.

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