What do social justice unionism, organizing and mobilizing, fighting for human and civil rights, and working to make teaching a true profession all have in common? They are grand themes found in the history of our union, born in February 1970.

From the first negotiation package developed before the 1970 strike, to the development of School-Based Management to give parents and educators a say in what goes on in every school, to the Schools L.A. Students Deserve manifesto, UTLA has been fighting for social justice from Day 1. Of UTLA’s twelve presidents, nine led organizing and mobilizing campaigns to either strikes, near strikes, or mass demonstrations to protect our health benefits. UTLA has been an activist union for over fifty years. From the anti-gay Briggs initiative in 1978, to the anti-immigrant Proposition 187, to the anti-affirmative action Proposition 209, and the Unz anti-bilingual Proposition 227, UTLA has stood tall against all efforts in our state to curtail human and civil rights. UTLA has been a leader in the fight to professionalize teaching. Through championing authentic professional development of, by, and for teachers, to the establishment of the Helen Bernstein Professional Development Center, the Institute for Standards, Curriculum and Assessments, the UTLA/LAUSD NBC Support Network, and the work of the Peer Assistance and Review program, UTLA has been a state and national leader in centering the profession on what will make our members better practitioners.

Did you know that UTLA was the first educators union in California to call for Ethnic Studies in its contract? That UTLA, acting in concert with the CFT, led the fight to bring true collective bargaining to our state’s educators? That UTLA led the first effort to build a coalition of the unions that represented our large urban cities to speak up for the educational needs of the growing number of California’s students who lived in poverty? Do you know what UTLA president was fond of saying “they lied, they lied, they lied,” or said “they just don’t get it”? Why did UTLA hold a “funeral for public education” or a “caravan for class size reduction”? Why do we have a District Health Benefits Committee that negotiates on behalf of all the LAUSD unions for our health benefits? (UTLA started that ball rolling.) 

All these events, beliefs, and actions are part of the fifty-two-year history of UTLA. And until now, UTLA has never tried memorializing our union’s rich history. Until now, the only written history of UTLA are the back copies of our newspaper, the United Teacher. That all changed about six months ago when President Cecily Myart-Cruz asked former President John Perez and Board of Directors unofficial historian to second a motion she made to establish the UTLA Living History Project. UTLA Secretary Arlene Inouye and former President Perez chair the project, with the other committee members being Michael Kaplan, Scott Mandel, Cheryl Ortega, and Cat Proctor. 

The Committee has hired a videographer and already has had former presidents, officers, staff, and UTLA lawyers record their experiences as members, union activists, and support staff. The Committee held a Living History workshop at this year’s Leadership Conference. It has identified grand themes in our history like those above that it wants to develop videos around and said that the United Teacher should carry UTLA Living History articles that it wants to be written by the people who made UTLA history—YOU! The Committee wants YOU to participate in writing and actively telling UTLA’s story. The Committee also asks all UTLA members who want to participate in writing their own UTLA Living History Timeline to send it to UTLA so that we can archive it with those of others. If you want to submit a possible Living History article or send us your timeline, submit them to livinghistory@utla.net. As our union enters its second half-century, it is time for all of us to take a hand in writing your, our, union’s history!