Protesters demanding fair wages gather at San Francisco City College's Mission Campus in strike on April 27. Photo by Laura Waxmann

Some 25 teachers and students gathered on Wednesday morning at the Mission District Campus of City College to denounce unfair labor practices at the community college stemming from low wages paid to teachers.

The chants of students and faculty members could be heard down the block from the Valencia Street campus, as protesters attempted to enter the campus but found that the school had been locked.

“They shut down the school because they didn’t want to face us,” said Tim Killikelly, president of the American Federation of Teachers 2121, the faculty union that carried out the strike. The union has been involved in contract negotiations over teacher wages with Susan Lamb, the school’s interim chancellor, and the current administration for more than a year.

Earlier this month, Lamb released a contract proposal without the involvement of the union. The move has been deemed as an unfair labor practice by the union, prompting the strike.

Administrators’ offer of a 7.19 percent salary boost over two years has been denied by the teacher’s union, who say that the raise is “not actually a raise” and comes with stipulations.

“Of the 7 percent, 3.7 percent would [restore] salaires to what they were in 2007,” explained Killikelly. Of the other 3.5 percent, only 1.5 percent “is a real raise,” he said – two percent of the remaining increase would only kick in if the school’s enrollment bounces back.

Since the School’s accreditation crisis, enrollment has dropped from 100,000 to some 65,000 students.

“The college has to grow back by a third of what it is now by the end of next year,” said Killikelly. “If not, that money goes away. It’s not really a raise.”

The union is asking for the school’s teachers to be paid 4 percent of the cost of living adjustment over the last four years, which Killikelly said is “consistent with other union contracts.”

“We want our salaires restored,” he said.

Now retired, Nicole Wendel taught English as a Second Language classes at City College for more than 30 years. She said that teachers currently working at the school have been out of contract for the past 10 months and are experiencing “a lot of bottled up frustration.”

“[Prop. 30 was] passed but classes are still being cut and we are not seeing that money go into [teachers’] salaries,” said Wendel.  “This is an unbelievably fabulous school. They’ve got to pay a decent living wage to those who made it that.”

Wendel and other strikers said that the faculty’s current pay matches their salaries in 2007.

The proposition was passed to prevent classes from being cut and provide more funding to schools, but the striking teachers say that they have not shared “a piece of the pie.”

Instead, college administrators have proposed to cut classes by 26 percent over a period of six years, said Killikelly.

“The people who are running the college have a bad vision of what they want for the school,” he said. “Instead of coming out of an accreditation crisis [with a vision to] restore the schools and retain teachers, what are we going to be left with is 26 percent smaller college.”

Photo by Laura Waxmann

Wendel and others participating in the day-long strike, which affected 11 campuses citywide, expressed their frustrations with the school’s leadership following the accreditation crisis.

California law requires colleges to be accredited in order to receive federal funding. City College, California’s largest public school, found its accreditation threatened in 2012 when a review by an accrediting commission declared that the school was falling short on several requirements.

”We used to say that we had the best job, but these last years have been hell,” said Jennifer Irvine, who has taught English as a Second Language at City College for over a decade. “I don’t want to leave my students, but this hasn’t been a happy place to work.”

Many teachers have moved out of San Francisco altogether — or taken on multiple jobs — because of their classification as part-time employees, their meager salaries, and their often limited working hours.

“This is the most expensive city in the world,” said protester Rita Moran, an ESL teacher at the school. “[This strike] is about retaining the teachers. How can we attract the best teachers if we don’t pay them something they can live on?”

Unable to enter the school’s building, the group of protesters took to the street despite periodic downpours of rain during the union’s first strike at the Mission campus.  

The strikers lifted signs into the air that read “Our Future Depends On City College” and “Educate Our City, Pay Our Teachers,” and maintained warm spirits throughout the morning protest, enlivened with a show of support from honking cars that passed the them on Valencia Street. Following the three-hour strike, protesters moved on to City Hall for an 11 a.m. press conference regarding their demands.

Among other programs, City College offers special career-oriented programs for non-native English speakers, the formerly incarcerated, and for seniors, and many students showed up in strong support of their teachers, backing their demands for fair pay.

“This school did a lot for the city and for immigrants, it’s where I learned to speak English,” said Anastasia Bachykala, who is from Belarus.

Bachykala said she now works in graphic design, a career that her 5-year education at City College prepared her for.  
“CCSF is the only school in the city that makes a professional future possible for low-income, foreign students,” said Bachykala. “These teachers are extremely professional and they deserve to be paid for their work.”

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