“¡Si Se Puede!” Pomona Teachers

Posted April 16, 2009 in News

Layoffs are the new boycott for UFW


The walk from Pomona City Hall to Philadelphia Elementary School is less than two miles, but in that short distance, local activists and educators hope to make a big statement this weekend. They will gather to march for the seventh annual Cesar Chavez Pilgrimage, a celebration of iconic labor leader Cesar Chavez.


But this year, the march through Pomona highlights another unlikely labor group as well: the teachers of the Pomona Unified School District.


Following a recent uproar over notification of preliminary layoffs, local educators joined the ranks of the working class affected by California’s deep budget cuts. 


“This massive teacher layoff is going to impact our students and we want to make sure we bring the awareness out to the media and to the public,” says Primo Castro, member of the Caesar Chavez Tribute Committee, the chief organizers of the pilgrimage. Castro is also the Senate deputy for the 28th District of California and ran for Pomona city council last year. 


Odd that groups like United Farm Workers of America, co-founded by Chavez in 1962, and the Pomona Day Laborer Center would lend their support to this cause? Not so, organizers say.


“I think a lot of people look at teachers as somehow not part of labor because they consider them part of the professional class. But I would disagree with that,” says Morgan Brown, president of Associated Pomona Teachers. “We’re on the front lines with working class people, particularly in this city of Pomona.”


Pomona teachers district-wide received preliminary layoffs in February. District spokesman Tim McGillivary says that such notices are not the same as “pink slips,” or definitive notices of termination. He points out that administrative personnel are also feeling the pain—they will be cut by 15 percent this coming school year. 


“And all administrators have already taken a 2.3 percent pay cut and will continue to take a 2.3 percent pay cut for this coming school year,” says McGillivary. “Our superintendent [Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana] has taken a 5 percent pay cut.”


However, alleged discrepancies regarding the number of teachers who received layoff notices and how seniority affected the notification process has created a deepening divide between the union and the district, further buttressing labor’s rank-and-file rallying cry.


Event participants will voice their layoff concerns during the pilgrimage, which starts at 9:30Am, beginning at the steps of the district headquarters at 800 S. Garey Avenue. Speakers include Arturo Rodriguez, current president of the UFW and Dolores Huerta, its co-founder who started the organization with Chavez. The Latino/Latina Roundtable and the Latino Council for Latin American Advancement are among the event sponsors


It’s the second time education activists gathered on these steps this year. 


On March 13, the teachers union staged a “Pink Friday” rally of 2,000 people in response to layoff notices.


In front of an anticipated crowd of about 300 people, the speakers at the April 18 pilgrimage will encourage teachers, UFW members and laborers to write letters to Congress urging them preserve funding for the Pomona district. The pilgrimage route ends at Philadelphia Elementary School, a fitting destination according to Castro.


“Philadelphia Elementary is in the heart of Pomona,” he says. “And we want to make sure that we are received by a community that is already very active in the city of Pomona.”

—Nathan Jackson


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