Local Leader Spotlight: Nancy Vera, President of Corpus Christi AFT

Nancy Vera stands in front of a Corpus Christi banner. She is holding a sign that reads, "Want a raise? Join a union."
Dr. Nancy Vera, president of Corpus Christi AFT

Corpus Christi AFT represents approximately 1,400 members from multiple school districts in the Corpus Christi area.

Chartered in 1975, CCAFT was the first Texas AFT local union to get a 30-minute duty-free lunch, before it became state law, as well as a 45-minute conference period for teachers. CCAFT is active in its school district through elected consultation, and the union is active in the broader Corpus Christi area thanks to a strong history of unionism.

“I’m proud of the history of the CCAFT. I’m proud of the work we’ve done together,” said Dr. Nancy Vera, president of Corpus Christi AFT. “We all work to make our community better and that’s what it’s all about — making all our lives better. AFT is the driving force in my community, we are a major force to deal with. We’re always the go-to when it comes to education in Corpus Christi, and it’s because of the hard work and the dedication of our members.”

We recently sat down with Nancy to hear more about the work happening in Corpus Christi.

Nancy is one of our many exceptional leaders and members across Texas. Check out our past leader spotlights to hear from more of them.

Your local union was successful in getting educators and staff vaccinated before the presidential mandate. Can you tell me about how the collective action of your members helped make that happen?

It was a result of our members working hard and working in unison to try and get things done. All along, our teachers have been teaching virtually and face to face, while still under the rigorous standards always in place. When the vaccine was announced, we locally were pushing our officials to vaccinate school employees, and especially teachers. We wrote letters to the commissioner’s court, the judge, the mayor, city council members, all our school board members, and the superintendent. Fortunately, because of our relationship with the Nueces County judge and the mayor — because we are very much into political and community engagement — we were able to work with the superintendent to start up the vaccines at the beginning of February.

We were the first ones in Texas — in Nueces County — to vaccinate teachers. We were able to vaccinate 500 school employees in the county. We were the first to do that en masse for teachers, so we’re very proud of that work because it’s important work — it’s related to life and death. Teachers were elated that we were able to do that. What is most critical to our community are the lives of our children and those of our families, but also, the lives of those who educate our children are most important. That’s what I think was taken into consideration by the mayor and the judge. We are still working on vaccinating everyone, and now it’s easier because of the president’s declaration saying teachers are essential workers.

What’s a recent example of when you helped a member facing problems in the workplace?

We’ve had teachers who have been coerced, or rather told, not to contact the union if there are violations of CDC guidelines. There were teachers sending us photographs of students not wearing their masks — also of their colleagues not wearing their masks, or their principal not wearing a mask, not adhering to social distancing guidelines. Teachers are concerned about that.

I don’t understand the brazen way in which some folks think that COVID-19 is not a matter of life and death. I am totally baffled by the lack of understanding regarding this pandemic. We’ve had people die; we’ve had people in our organization die. A custodian died, who we suspect contracted it by working at one of our local schools. For some of the school administrators not to take this seriously is beyond me.

What’s going on locally with the recent lift of the statewide mask mandate?

All our mask requirements will remain, but we know from teachers that it is very difficult to keep masks on the students. Gov. Abbott, who I think was very foolish, didn’t understand what that would mean for our schools where not all our teachers and employees have been vaccinated twice. It poses some very dangerous situations in the schools, and it’s already difficult enough.

Tell me a little about yourself.

I am a fourth-generation Corpus Christian. I became involved at an early age, in my teens, when I would read the paper and I would read about the groundbreaking achievements of [former CCAFT Presidents] John Cole and Linda Bridges. I said, “I want to do what they’re doing.” I went to college here, and I was working for the newspaper at the time as a copy editor. The editor asked me, “What are you going to do? Are you going to be a copy editor? Are you going to work for us? Or are you going to be a teacher? Because teaching is for the birds.”

And I decided I was going to be a teacher because I was so angry that he criticized them. As soon as I graduated, I went right up to the CCAFT table and Linda Bridges signed me up as a member, and that was in 1985.

I was an English teacher in the classroom for 20 years, and for the rest, I’ve been in organizing with the union. So that’s a total of 35 years, since 1985.

I worked for AFT as a staff representative in 1990 and traveled a lot. Toward the end there, I got really antsy and wanted to be home with my family. I came back to Corpus Christi in 2000, got my master’s degree and my doctorate degree, dedicated myself to CCAFT, and, eventually, was appointed as the vice president of CCAFT. Naturally, organizing has been in my bones forever.

Organizing has been in my bones forever.

— Dr. Nancy Vera

Linda Bridges was my mentor, so I had always wanted to become president, but I thought it wouldn’t happen because I worked for AFT. Then, lo and behold, 20 years later, there was this opportunity when then-President Ray McMurrey went to the state federation. He thought it was a natural transition to appoint me because I already knew the business quite well.

I’ve been involved in the Democratic Party and traveled all over the country. Now I’m also the chair for the Texas AFT Community Engagement Committee, member of the AFT Latina Task Force, vice president of the South Texas Human Rights Center, co-chair of the Corpus Christi Police Department Training Advisory Board, and deputy director for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Region 11, also serving on their national LGBTQ+ committee.

To me, it’s my life — it’s my calling. I try to help as many people as possible.

How do you engage the broader community in your work?

We work very closely with the South Texas Human Rights Center with issues related to immigration, people crossing the border, and children who have been incarcerated. We also work with Sister Norma Pimentel, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work along the border with immigrant families. She helps feed them and clothe them before they move on to other places.

We work with the LBGTQ+ community to try to bring them more dignity and respect. We work with those affected by domestic violence, helping promote awareness and safety. We work with the African-American community. We’re very proud to say that we helped elect our very first Black, female school board member in Corpus Christi ISD. We promote Black Lives Matter here and support our Latino community. We’re pretty busy. It takes a long time to develop relationships within the community. We attend their actions, and we participate to help in raising awareness.

That’s why we just received a $21,000 grant from AFT: the COVID-19 Innovation Fund grant. We’re going to create a sensory room for teachers and employees of the school where they can go in, sit in massage chairs, do puzzles, listen to music — just relax. There will also be a garden where they can sit and try to unwind from a tough day at work. In Corpus Christi, we have one of the highest illiteracy rates in Texas, the highest obesity, some of the highest pregnancy rates among teens, a high rate of diabetes, and really high rates of domestic violence. That’s why I’ve asked for special attention from AFT because we need to focus in on Latina educators and find out what their needs are. We need to help meet their needs so we can better help teachers teach.

Are you a public school employee in Corpus Christi, Calallen, Flour Bluff, Gregory Portland, London, Tuloso, or West Oso ISDs? Check out our union membership benefits and join Corpus Christi AFT today.