El Paso AFT focuses on advocacy — for members, on-campus issues, district issues, and state issues. It’s a constant fight to protect the rights of members at one level or another.
Having grown in recent years, El Paso AFT is approaching 3,000 members, and the local celebrated its 45th anniversary last year.
Ross Moore, president of El Paso AFT, credits the success of his union with the support and mentorship of neighboring Socorro AFT.
“Their office is about 15 miles from us, and we coordinate closely,” Moore said. “Their president, Veronica Hernandez, taught me more about being a local president than anyone else has. The how-tos, sharing of ideas — if I ever needed advice, I could go to her.”
Moore counts on his canine companion to relieve stress, too.
“We’ve also got Bruce The Wonder Dog, who helps out in the office,” he said. “If I’ve got a stressed member, he is great at providing a calm influence.”
Ross took some time to talk to us about what was at stake for the school board in El Paso ISD’s recent election, the fight against privatization, and his journey to union leadership.
Ross is one of our many exceptional leaders and members across Texas. Check out our past leader spotlights to hear from more of them.
Tell me a little about yourself. What were you up to before you joined our union? How many years have you been in leadership?
I was born in East Los Angeles, graduated high school, and then joined the Army for almost 27 years. I retired in 2001. The army has been invaluable to me as a local president. Something I learned in the Army was that the only thing that’s fatal is the failure to try.
I decided to retire because the last project I had was war planning for the Iraq invasion. I went head-to-head with my boss because he wanted me to pitch a bogus threat. They didn’t like my projection that it would lock us into a Guerilla war. That was not a politically popular opinion in January of 2001. I was faced with supporting something that was ethically and factually incorrect based on political pressure, and I basically said, I’m out of here. I wasn’t going to put my name on that, getting a bunch of people killed needlessly.
After I retired, I taught high school for 14 years in Northeast El Paso, with the greatest kids in El Paso. Man, they’re awesome. I taught U.S. History, Government, Economics, and World Geography. My father was an educator, so it came naturally. And in the Army I taught, too. Someone from the union sucked me in, and then I ended up sitting on the executive board. In 2014, I became local president and we turned this local around. In May, I will have my seventh anniversary.
What are some examples of issues you’ve recently helped members address?
Anything from principals that aren’t respecting members’ off time or weekends, to principals that threaten people, to edu-tech companies still calling and telling members to put together projects after the end of their contract — projects that they turn around and sell for a profit.
We’ve had a lot of problems with edu-tech corruption down here. They are trying to privatize the district and benefit the edu-tech industry. It’s been a constant fight. We’ve filed a couple of major grievances related to that over the past year that we’ve won. Those are the kind of fights we’re in out here.
Management and labor need to work together. We’ve got the talent in house to make learning laws, and we don’t need to bring in a multi-million-dollar contract with a company to save us, and to save our kids. Part of it is that there’s a far-right group in one part of town that has actively urged kids and pressured families to pull people out of EPISD because of policies around mask mandates, and they’re running candidates in this election. It’s never dull.
You recently won a big school board election. What was happening on the ground?
The future of EPISD was at stake in this election. We needed to live up to the promise of public education or choose to sit this one out, and the privatizers would take over. You ain’t seen nothing yet with them.
There’s a pro-charter organization run by billionaires that we’ve been fighting with for six years to keep them from turning EPISD schools into in-district charters run by KIPP or flat-out bring IDEA Public Schools into the neighborhood. It’s an organization run by billionaires. They saw this election as an opportunity to put four trustees on the school board, pick the next superintendent, and have full sway with their agenda.
With privatization, you could have expected an attack across the board on every kind of employee right and protection there is. If EPISD had fallen to it, we could have expected other districts in El Paso County would follow suit. They were fighting to get a 5-2 board, and we were fighting to get a 5-2 board. It was definitely a high-stakes election, but we took two seats on May 1 and are fighting for another one in a runoff. So our hard work is paying off.
What has the fight against privatization in El Paso looked like?
Charters have never really taken off in El Paso like they have in other places in Texas. There was never that kind of expansion here. But our members understand that if they put portfolio schools in place, a third of the kids in El Paso will go to public schools, a third will go to hybrid schools (in-district charters run by big charter companies), and a third will go to full charter schools. Members understand that if that happens, 50-60% of them will lose their jobs.
The other privatization threat is contracting out things like professional development, strategic planning, and things like that. The folks we have here in the district can do those things, but previous people in leadership tried to get it done by the edu-tech industry instead.
After the runoff election, we’ll still have plenty of hard work to do. It’s a year-round fight here.