50TH ANNIVERSARY SALUTE (from the RFT 50th Anniversary booklet)
In addition to being a past president of the RFT, John is currently Chairperson of the AFT Michigan Retiree Network, and serves on the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) State Board.
I think this Golden Anniversary is the appropriate time to reflect upon the accomplishments of the past and to pay tribute to our founders. It is also a good time to say thanks to those who have been in the forefront of this effort during the past 50 years. It is also a time to salute all of the Roseville teachers both past and present for their commitment and dedication to both their profession and to the Union. The legacy and effort of those who have walked before us needs to be remembered, recognized and preserved.
Fifty years ago nine Roseville teachers gathered in a living room and risked their professional careers by signing their names on a charter application to a small, militant and labor affiliated organization called the American Federation of Teachers. Their names have been forgotten by many and have never been known to many more. These people were the architects of our Union's structure and purpose. They wanted to improve their meager salaries and bring about changes in the conditions under which they taught. Their willingness to take a risk 50 years ago began a journey which continues today.
For the first 15 years of its existence the members of the RFT met, argued and debated. They passed resolution after resolution demanding change in the district. They appeared in groups before the Board of Education and spoke eloquently about the needs of both students and teachers. In all of their efforts, they met with little or no success but they persevered.
In 1965 things changed. A sympathetic legislature and governor finally gave teachers the right and power to bargain collectively. They were also given the right to strike.
In the spring of 1966, all of the teachers in the district voted for the organization that they thought would best represent their interests and needs. The RFT was chosen to be the official collective bargaining agent for all of the 680 teachers in the district.
Over the next 35 years a succession of officers, Executive Board members and negotiation teams hammered out 17 different contracts which improved the wages, hours, working conditions and the professional status of the teachers. Through all of this they were supported by literally thousands of dedicated and professional teachers.
On more than one occasion teachers took to the sidewalks in a show of solidarity to protect their rights. They picketed in the sun, in rain and even during the cold of winter. In each case their effort and time on the line represented a unified effort to achieve equity and rights for all. There are many members today who spent their first days as new hires on the line rather than in the classroom. They walked to support their union team who spent hours and days in often bitter and hostile negotiations.
These strikes represent the most memorable times for many teachers and for all of the Union leadership. On one occasion we were subpoenaed to appear in Macomb County Circuit Court where Bernard Fieger argued eloquently against a current Federal District Court Judge, Larry Zatkoff and got a court order to return to bargaining rather than going to jail. We struck for 3 weeks. We struck for 2 minutes. We struck for the rights of teachers. We struck for program improvements. Even when the membership voted not to strike, they immediately voted not to return to their classrooms.
But for all of our struggles and for all that we have gained, a word of warning is necessary. What we have struggled for can be taken away. Powerful political interests still believe that a "union" is a bad thing and "teacher union" is even worse. There are even some within the profession who think that the "union" is no longer necessary. Political forces in the state continue to seek to abolish tenure, delete certification and weaken or destroy the collective bargaining process.
Those who are to lead in the future need to understand that the struggle that began 50 years ago is far from over.
- John Olekszyk, RFT President
In 2000 the RFT marked 50 years of organization as AFT Local 1071, AFL-CIO. To celebrate, current and many past members, met on an evening in May to reflect, reminisce, and look forward to the next 50 years. A booklet was created, containing copies of some of the original charter documents, a history by RFT President, John Olekszyk (which is reprinted above), a list of the officers from 1950-2000 and a selection of clippings, articles and pictures from the formative and 'strike years' of the union.
A copy of this booklet has been scanned and converted to .pdf. The complete booklet is over 36mb in size, so if you do not have a high speed connection, you may wish to view it in sections. The largest section is just under 6mb.