In the early days of Foothill- De Anza (FHDA), classified staff were represented by the California School Employees Association (CSEA) and referred to as Unit One. During that time, classified staff felt well represented by their collective bargaining unit and, more importantly, valued by the District.
That all changed with the financial crisis surrounding the De Anza parking garage in the early 1990’s. In short, the District built the Flint Center and its adjacent garage with money from the general fund. The District believed they had that much money to cover these building costs. They didn’t and somewhere in this process they lost10 million dollars. The end result meant massive layoffs to classified staff to balance the budget. Those actions by the District demonstrated a growing inequitable treatment of classified staff compared to instructional and administrator groups. No other bargaining unit lost jobs during this crisis. It also led to dissatisfaction with CSEA. In 1993, Unit One decertified from CSEA and joined the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
During the early years with SEIU they fought hard for classified staff, negotiating increases in Professional Growth Awards (PGAs) and Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs). SEIU also filed an intent to sue the District for their use of temporary employees, nearly 1,000 at that time, to undermine the 640 full-time classified staff. By 2003, SEIU had won an agreement with the District to reduce the abuse of temporary workers through the creation of classified hourly position and converting several ongoing temporary work into permanent classified positions.
Around this same time, on a regional and state level, SEIU began to shift their focus and concentrated more on Sacramento relationships instead of stewarding, negotiations and serving its members. They adopted new missions and philosophies, and all but ignored our requests for help with the everyday issues that mattered to our members.
As dissatisfaction with SEIU began to grow, we discovered that West Valley – Mission, who were also represented by SEIU, were having the same difficulties with them. We combined our efforts and sent delegates to serve on the SEIU Executive Board, had our members send letters requesting SEIU return their focus to its members but to no avail. SEIU continued with their course of action and told us such public dissent would only damage our unity, so we shouldn’t talk about it too much. Meanwhile, support from SEIU continued to decline. High SEIU Worksite Organizer turnover made it difficult to get assistance. As soon as a Worksite Organizer would learn our contract, they’d quit, leaving us to wait for the next one to get up to speed.
The final push to leave SEIU came in 2007. At the time, there were seven police officers who were part of our unit. They submitted decertification cards to the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB), because they wanted to leave SEIU and join the Police Officers Association (POA). In an effort to retain the seven police officers in our unit, SEIU brokered a deal with the PERB that they would try to negotiate with our district the 3% @50 that most police officers in the POA enjoyed. SEIU did not ask anyone at FHDA if this is what we wanted. This was not what we wanted.
In 2007-2008, the State allocated a 4% COLA. In the Spring of 2008 we were still negotiating with the District because SEIU did not want to lose the seven officers to another union and the District wanted a portion of our COLA to pay the cost of 3% @50. The deal did not make sense for the bulk of our members and we declined it, but SEIU continued to push the issue against our wishes in order retain those seven officers. It ultimately brought negotiations to impasse before it was resolved with a full COLA for our members and the police officers moving to POA union. It is the closest we have come to a strike.
Our members were not happy.
In Summer/Fall of 2008, five leaders from De Anza, three from the negotiations team, the former De Anza Chief Steward and a former Classified Senate President decided to explore decertifying from SEIU. Two of the five were involved in the first decertification from CSEA to SEIU. We had heard that Cabrillo College had left SEIU and established their own independent union. Meeting with Cabrillo’s attorney over the next couple of months, and based on our dissatisfaction with two national unions, the advantages of establishing an independent union seemed to be a better fit for our members.
To make the switch, we needed to have two-thirds of the members sign cards stating they wanted another representative and submit those cards to the PERB. We developed a plan of action, chose three more individuals to help us distribute and collect those cards and made lists and maps and more plans. We were ready.
Then we discovered there were only two legal time slots to submit those cards – when there was no contract in place and a very specific window of time described by the law as “120 days before but no more than 90 days before the contract expires.” Our contract expired Oct 31. We missed our window. The window was last July, August and September. It was now October.
There was one more opportunity to move forward. SEIU had become so neglectful in their duties, the last time the contract was up to expire they didn’t roll it over, meaning, they did not request that the contract stay as is, with all provisions intact, until we finished negotiations. On Wednesday, Oct 27, 2008, when the FHDA Board of Trustees agenda was published,the door was opened, SEIU had failed to roll over the contract.
The organizing group divided up the cards, contacted our three partners, requested vacation for the remainder of the week and set out to decertify SEIU. By Friday afternoon the group had signatures from nearly 80% of the membership. On Monday, paperwork and the signature cards were filed with the PERB and we announced at the FHDA Board of Trustees meeting that we were decertifying from SEIU and creating our own independent union.
Over the 2008 winter break, a new constitution was developed, modeled after the one from Cabrillo College. SEIU tried many times to stop us, including filing several Unfair Labor Practice suits against us. In March 2009, the PERB awarded us a vote.
On March 24, 2009, the PERB certified the Classified Professionals Association (CPA) as the official bargaining unit of Unit One at FHDA. Later, by vote of the membership, we changed our name to Association of Classified Employees (ACE).