Skip to main content

CHTU 50th Anniversary Memories

50th Anniversary Memories
Local 795, 1944-1994
The Cleveland Heights Teachers Union began with a handful of teachers meeting secretly, seeking to be heard with one voice. Local 795 has evolved into a grand chorus of over six-hundred members strong.
-Tom Schmida
First Banquet

The first 795 banquet was a picnic in the woods. The first ten signatories to the charter would each know who the other nine were, for the first time. There was, after all, a danger of being fired if anyone undermined the administration controlled Teachers' Association and formed a union.

The picnic in the woods occurred. The late P. Theodore Torg, Language Teacher, Heights High School, looked around and announced, "Where the hell is my brother Ñ that damn coward." He was referring to Joseph Torg, English Teacher, Heights High School. Ted was really angry. Joe joined the next year.

The Early Years

Perry Cooley, Business Teacher, Heights High School, was called to the Superintendent's office and accused of being a union member, an instigator and threatened with loss of employment.

Mr. Cooley, who lived more than a hundred years, was close to retirement at the time he was called in. He was a sweet, gentle person, the furthest thing from an instigator. Even when he told the story, in his old age, he was frightened.

Mr. Cooley never joined the teachers union. He had joined the credit union.

Glenn's First Speech
Common practice decades ago was for new members of the faculty to be silent at union meetings during their early years of service. After three years of service Glenn Altschuld made his first union issue speech. In 1980, the late Merritt Clifford, English Teacher, Heights High School, attended, as a retiree, the High School Annual Men's Picnic, and there related a story. Mr. Clifford was at the 1960 meeting where Altschuld spoke. It seems he went home and told his wife he had this day heard either the leadership of the future or the biggest damn bullshitter he had ever heard. And twenty years later he believed it was probably a little of both.
A Strange AFT Convention Election

Myron Lieberman is a famous writer. His books and articles are anti-teacher and anti-union. He believes that teachers should not be allowed to collectively bargain contracts with their employers, that teachers are, by their nature, untrustworthy to their task of educating students and should be forced to accept the control of school administration. He is sponsored by the National Right To Work Foundation.

In 1963, the American Federation of Teachers Convention met in Detroit, Michigan. Local 795 sent one delegate, Larry Bauer, Heights High School Science Instructor. Bauer telephoned the local in shock. Local 795 was running a candidate for AFT President against President Carl Megel who was very popular in Cleveland Heights. The 795 candidate's name was Myron Lieberman. Bauer had never met Lieberman or seen him at a local meeting.

Jack Fraier, Heights High School Language Teacher, flew to Detroit from Cleveland's lakefront airport with all the information we could garner. Merrit Clifford, Heights High School English Teacher, drove to Detroit to also testify.

Myron Lieberman was not a member of Local 795, nor was he employed in the CH-UH schools. There was some information, not fully verified, that he may have been on the substitute list in the Shaker Heights Schools. Lieberman's brashness and duplicity were super. He had not only confused the AFT, he had successfully duped our local president. Non only was he a non-member, he was not even eligible for membership, and he was a candidate for national president.

The information arrived in Detroit too late to remove Lieberman from the ballot. Fortunately, President Megel won re-election. And since 1963, AFT routinely checks all national candidacy petitions against the membership lists.

Early 1970's
The Bitterness

No school district in Ohio had worse bitterness deciding who would be the bargaining agent than our own CH-UH. In an eight year period there were four bargaining agency elections, 1967, 1971, 1973, 1975. The Association won the 1967 election. The Union won the next three.

In 1967, the Teachers Association met with the Board of Education and settled for a raise. The Teachers Union refused the raise so the Board increased it. Then a bargaining agency election was held and the Teachers Association won. Go figure. Probably the biggest reason for the Association win was the belief held by many teachers that, being educated, they were too high class for unionism.

In 1971, 1973 and 1975 there were three more bargaining agency elections. The Union won them all. In 1971, articles in the Sun Press and other papers heralded the coming of the union as the beginnings of labor peace in the CH-UH School District. The newspapers were discussing only the relationship between the school district and the bargaining agent and their appraisal was correct. Throughout the decade of the seventies there were contracts, agreements, and no strikes. There was labor peace.

On August 10, 1971, the newly elected Local 795 won the first ever contract for the CH-UH teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses. The contract had to be ratified by the BOE and the 795 members, and would become effective in September. The bargaining team of Glenn Altschuld, chief bargainer, CHHS; Jack Quinn, Wiley and Ellen Krebs, Boulevard, insisted on dating the contract not on its effective date, or its ratification date, but rather the date, August 10th, on which agreement was achieved, such dating is uncommon, almost never used. It is however, not illegal.

In mid-September, two member-officers of the dis-elected teachers association reported the CH-UH School Board for violating the President Nixon Wage-Price Freeze. This was done via a letter requesting judgement as to whether the raises were legal, thus bringing federal attention to the new contract. The two association member-officers were so angry at losing the bargaining agency election that they were willing to halt the raises and benefits of the new contract for all staff.

William C. Hartman, Attorney, Squire, Sanders and Dempsey, represented the School Board before the Federal Wage-Price Board and returned with a judgement in our favor. The Federal Board ruled that thought the method of dating the contract was not common, and seemed to be purposeful to evade the freeze, it was not against the law. was prior to September first, and therefor the contract, including raises and benefits, was legal. Further, the Feds ruled that the September first start date was not announced until September first, so there could not have been subterfuge.

Attorney Hartman issued a statement stating that "Altschuld either had inside information or he was the luckiest person in the world." No member of the bargaining team ever responded to Attorney Hartman's statement. One elementary teacher said, "the team couldn't respond. They were grinning too much."

In 1972 the Association sued the Union and the Board of Education in federal court, for $151,000, which was one thousand dollars for each of the 151 Association members (non-union members) who had to accept a contract for which they could not vote. The Union was represented by Jerome Leiken, Leiken and Associates. The Board was represented by Charles Clark, Squire Sanders, and Dempsey. After hearing the Association's case, the judge decided to dismiss. Local 795 President Glenn Altschuld screamed "NO" The proceedings halted while Altschuld explained to attorneys that he expected an appeal and needed to present a defense now. Attorneys agreed, the defense was presented, Local 795 won, the appeal was filed with the Sixth Federal District in Cincinnati and our Local won again.

President Altschuld sent a message to his wife from Cincinnati which read, "If I lose the hundred and fifty-one thousand, you'll have to take the money from the household budget."

Larry Bauer

Teacher union was a dirty word in those days.

I joined Local 795 in 1957. That was my first year of teaching. My first year salary was $4,200. There were no fringe benefits. The benefits came later because of our union negotiations. I taught chemistry and biology for 27 years at the High School.

I have been a member of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union for 37 years. When I joined Local 795, it was called the Cleveland Heights Federation of Teachers. Teacher union was a dirty word in those days. I remember a debate when we voted to change our name from Federation to Union.

Over the years I served as Union Officer and longtime High School Steward. Since I retired in 1984, I've been the liaison for retirees. I also attended many national (AFT) and state (OFT) conventions. My first state convention was in 1959 in Columbus. I was a delegation of one. I was the delegate because I was willing to pay my own expenses. We had no treasury in those days.

When I look back, I think of my early years and the veteran teachers who were my mentors. They taught me so much. I remember Walter Kremm, the Lorz brothers, Sam Clifford, Gil Hoff, Ellen Krebs. Later in the 1960's Glen Altschuld came on the scene. He revitalized the Union and led us to victory in collective bargaining elections.

I loved my 27 years at Heights High. I was fortunate to have taught in the Cleveland Heights - University Heights System. It's the people who made it a wonderful experience... my many students (I loved 98% of them) and my Union brothers and sisters (I loved 100% of them.)

The Union was, is and will continue to be my life. I won't be here for the 100th Anniversary, but I expect to be back for our 75th Anniversary bash -- God willing. And God bless our Union. Local 795 always has been true to its credo: Democracy for Education / Education for Democracy.

Carolyn Grossman

I felt I had to put my money where my mouth was and ran for steward.

I was a somewhat vocal critic of Union decisions and when Wally Feldman left Taylor for the middle school in the mid-70's (or was it retirement?), I felt I had to put my money where my mouth was and ran for steward.

It took atleast a year for me to familiarize myself with union procedure and ask a lot of pointed questions. To my surprise and pleasure these questions were always dealt with courteously and patiently. I was able to report back to my constituency that this Union was, indeed, run in a democratic fashion and the only thing it may have lacked were members interested enough to ask questions.

The ranks of executive board members who asked questions grew over the years, thank goodness, from just a few of us, to what appeared to me to be a large majority as we entered the 1990's.

A very special memory of the 1983 strike is that of my 83 year old mom insisting on coming (with nurse and my daughter) to walk the picket line with me and my daughter-in-law, a Bellefaire teacher. Mom died suddenly three days later and the photo I have of her on the "line" is treasured.

Also, I'll remember Tom Murray's offer to act as strike captain for Taylor. As steward, I was enormously helped by his taking over that role.

I was honored by the receipt of the Ellen Krebs award -- also in 1983. It was a total surprise and a recognition that I will always appreciate.

I feel very strongly about the value of collective bargaining and union solidarity. Sadly, we gain our greatest unity when faced with strike provoking conditions. I hope that we (you) can remain as unified during times of relative labor peace.

Best wishes to Local 795 for at least 50 more productive and useful years of service.

Jack Quinn

This small group of teachers was to increase its membership to around fifty-five members and to challenge the Cleveland Heights Education Association of over five hundred and fifty members

From over twenty years of active Union membership at the local, state and national levels there are so many, many memories: The bargaining election of 1971... The Wiley "wildcat" strike over the central office administration's failure to expel a student for a teacher assault in March of 1979... The January 1983 strike...

All of the preceeding events have their roots in the late 1960's, when the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union was a small, rather close knit group of active educators within the school community. The union's average membership during those years was thirty five members, although we claimed a membership of about one hundred. The six member executive board met twice a month at Wiley Junior High School with five general membership meeting being held during the school year. "Crisis" meetings, and there were many, were usually held at the home of Ellen Krebs, the heart and soul of the Union, on Yorkshire Road in Cleveland Heights.

This small group of teachers was to increase its membership to around fifty-five members and to challenge the Cleveland Heights Education Association of over five hundred and fifty members to win 283 to 236 in the bargaining election of May 1971.

I believe all of those "enduring" members are now retired... two members of that 1968 executive board have passed away.

Fran Herskovitz

The problem was that the amount of energy exerted in winning something in the contract was equal to the amount of energy expended afterward in keeping it.

It is impossible to single out one event from my life as a union activist. Teaching was like a day job; the union my other vocation. I couldn't imagine not having a voice in my own destiny. It began in 1971 when I helped organize the elementary schools. The problem was that the amount of energy exerted in winning something in the contract was equal to the amount of energy expended afterward in keeping it.

But I wouldn't have it any other way. My best friends today are those who stood fast during the harder times, especially the strike of 1983. These are people who knew their value and simply wouldn't sell it short.

Teaching is the hardest thing I have done. It suited me and vice versa. The same can be said for the Union. Congratulations to all of you who have led and spoken out.

Walter P. Kremm

A Tale or a Tale.

This might be called a "Tale of David and Goliath" or perhaps a "Tail that Wagged Two Dogs"

It was February, 1967, a time when teacher strikes in Ohio were unheard of and when Teacher Associations shuddered at the word "strike". The Board of Education had just condescended to make our Union a salary offer.

Jim Roberts and I met with the Board on February 20, 1967. As Chairman fo the Salary Committee I read a statement from our Union to the Board rejecting their salary offer as wholly unacceptable and setting March 15, 1967, as a deadline for securing a satisfactory salary schedule. If we did no secure such a schedule by that date, we would close down all or part of the Cleveland Heights - University Heights School System. (Jim told me later that when the strike date was announced mouths dropped.)

I should indicate that we had an official of the Cleveland AFL-CIO attend the meeting with us, and notified the Board that non-teaching employees were committed to support our cause.

A few days later our Union received an invitation to meet in the evening with a representative of the Board, Mr. Worth Loomis, as I recall. We met with Mr. Loomis, and he handed us the Board's response to our Union demands. The Board's proposal was a very good one and met almost all of union demands. The only explanation offered for what amounted to capitulation was that Board just couldn't have a strike take place.

I think it was Ellen Krebs and I who used a telephone system to reach our membership that night and call a special meeting at the high school for early the following morning. Our members approved the proposal, and we made public the agreement.

With only ten percent of the teachers in the system in our Union we had outmaneuvered the Board and outflanked the nine-times larger Cleveland Heights Teachers Association. Was the Union bluffing? Only partly. Our membership was concentrated at the high school, and the plan was to close down the high school. In addition, we had an oral commitment from the custodians to support us and not cross the picket lines.

Share This