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Texas AFT: mourn the loss of our union’s “happy warrior”

“While education negotiation remains elusive, we will have to thank Sharon’s years of training as an activist and steward at Texas AFT when we finally reach our goal of a negotiated contract.

AFT Texas President Zeph Capo

Sharon Cole

Sharon Cole, one of the early formators of what we then called the Texas Federation of Teachers, recently passed away. Sharon was the spark plug that sparked much of the organizing in our union by teaching new staff the nuts and bolts of union membership registration and guiding local union leaders. Our friend Ed Sills, communications director of the AFL-CIO of Texas, wrote him this fitting tribute.

The AFL-CIO of Texas is saddened to learn of the passing of Sharon Cole, who played an extraordinary role in the success of the Texas American Federation of Teachers.

Sister Cole and her husband, John Cole, a longtime president of AFT Texas, were one of the great couples in Texas labor history. As a reporter covering the Legislative Assembly in the 1980s and early 1990s, I witnessed this with my own eyes: John chaired press conferences and served as the public face of the union, but reporters poured in. to Sharon for more details and everything in between the lines the union could afford to disclose. It was a Mr. Outside and Ms. Inside vibe characterized by superb communication skills and determined advocacy. While Sharon Cole is formally responsible for leadership development and training, her portfolio encompasses all of AFT’s Texas operations. As the communications director of Texas AFL-CIO, I have also had the honor of attending some of the leadership training conferences Sharon has hosted at Texas AFT, and I can say from experience that these operations have been ( and are) valuable, efficient and enthusiastic. received.

The Coles’ tenure included nationally significant battles over educational reform and school financial justice – the latter a historic civil rights battle that conquered rugged hills. Their participation in the fair fundraising movement for public schools came after a setback in the United States Supreme Court. Ultimately, the Texas Supreme Court made some important court decisions and the legislature moved in the direction of funding parity for schoolchildren in the state.

Sharon Cole

Although some local affiliates of the American Federation of Teachers in Texas are older, AFT Texas was founded in 1974, at a time when public sector unions were beginning to play a much larger role in the labor movement. The AFT state was a newcomer to a state that has four organizations seeking to represent teachers and other public school employees. Two of these organizations can be qualified as non-union and / or anti-union. The third, our friends from the Texas State Teachers Association, joined with AFT of Texas to organize meetings and conferences in a number of large school districts; TSTA was founded in 1880. Under the leadership of John and Sharon Cole, Texas AFT has grown, both in number and efficiency.

A succession of Texas AFL-CIO presidents have proudly noted that the Texas AFT is the largest or the second largest union in the state federation, depending on which day you count members alongside the American Federation. government employees. The union went from “being able to meet in a closet” to the 66,000 members it has today by shamelessly declaring that the Texas AFT is a union through and through, seeking collective bargaining, opposing the a law known as the “right to work” and engaging in the kind of concerted activism expected from unions across the country. Sharon Cole was instrumental in laying the foundation for the union’s rise to power.

In addition to creating an organizational culture, the Coles have set another standard that applies to AFT Texas to date: They have excelled at recruiting staff, hiring some of the government’s best advocates. State and cultivating their talents. To this day, Texas AFT is making a mark that goes way beyond its numbers.

“Sharon Cole was a true emissary of labor sent from Ohio to guide new activists to the promised land of collective bargaining and empowering teachers and school workers here in Texas,” the president said. ‘AFT from Texas, Zeph Capo. “While education negotiation remains elusive, we will have to thank Sharon’s years of training as an activist and steward at Texas AFT when we finally reach our goal of a negotiated contract.

Any memory of Sharon Cole cannot fail to mention that the Coles were the mainstays of Corpus Christi, having started their work in Texas (after meeting while organizing in Ohio) at the local AFT branch. . (The Corpus Christi affiliate would produce another revered Texas AFT president and Cole protégé, the late Linda Bridges.) The conditions in Corpus Christi schools and the realization that other school districts were in the same situation prompted the Coles to take their activism to the state level. For years, the Coles made personal financial sacrifices as they strengthened the foundations of the union.

“It was my chance to work with and get to know Sharon Cole,” said Becky Moeller, former president of the AFL-CIO of Texas, another historic labor activist from Corpus Christi. “In addition to her advocacy for schoolchildren, she has devoted herself to educating union activists. His continuing education programs within AFT and work in general were legendary.

“John Cole and Sharon Cole were a dynamic duo,” said Moeller. “They complemented each other professionally and personally. Many members of the labor movement have been touched by Sharon’s activism and love for her work.
Sharon Cole personally recruited former AFT Texas president Louis Malfaro to join AFT Texas during his first year as a teacher.

“Sharon called me cold the same week I received a letter from an anti-union teachers’ organization that said, ‘We think strikes should be for the big old game of baseball,’” Malfaro said. . “I was livid. When she called me I asked, “Is this a real union? She assured me that Texas AFT was affiliated with the AFL-CIO and really a real union. She was at my classroom door the next morning with a membership card, convinced she had one online.

Malfaro said Sharon Cole’s belief in systemic organizing has influenced AFT affiliates across the country. He adds that she was a joy to work with: “Her saucy sense of humor, her easy way to connect with just about everyone she met and the hoarse laughter that spilled out in the halls of the hotel. AFT office in Texas are forever etched in my memory. “

Eric Hartman, the longtime legislative director of AFT Texas recruited by John Cole, described Sharon Cole as a “happy warrior”. He said the couple were “a real partnership, a team that has served the members very well.”
Hartman said Sharon Cole’s versatility was extraordinary, especially given the union’s years of being a family operation, with minimal staff. “She was the one who could do it all,” Hartman said.

Jerry Quinones, a retiree who has worked for AFT locally, state and nationally, said Sharon Cole’s role in the union’s growth is vital. “She lit up a room,” Quinones said. “She was always upbeat and positive, with so much energy and so much motivation.” Quinones said this personality carried on in the summer and winter leadership training sessions which were widely emulated and became national role models for the union.

Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy said Sharon Cole had played an important role in the history of the state’s Federation of Labor. “Sharon Cole was at the heart of the movement to improve public education in Texas,” Levy said. “His commitment to training, leadership development and organizational strength has left a legacy across the labor movement and has helped make Texas AFT a leader not only in education policy, but also in education policy. the full range of problems affecting working families. She will be deeply missed.

The Texas AFL-CIO offers its sincere condolences to John Cole, the Cole family and the Texas AFT. Arrangements are private


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Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.