The California Federation of Teachers (CFT) is the second-largest teachers union in California, representing 120,000 government-sector and private-sector educators. The organization is a regional chapter of the left-of-center American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second-largest teachers union in the United States, and a chapter of the AFL-CIO, the largest union federation in the United States.
The CFT supports Democratic candidates and left-wing political policies, both through its public resolutions and its official political endorsements. The organization is considered more politically active and left-leaning than the California Teachers Association (CTA), the largest teachers’ union in California. In 2020, the CFT supported Propositions 15 and 16, failed California ballot initiatives which, if passed, would have increased property taxes on businesses and permitted the use of affirmative action in hiring for state agencies.
In 1918, a group of elementary and high school teachers in Vallejo, California formed a local chapter of the AFT to organize for a $2,000 minimum annual salary for teachers. A few months later in early 1919, the chapter became the California State Federation of Teachers (CSFT) with 800 founding members. 
The union soon joined the American Federation of Labor and helped mobilize against “ultraconservative forces” in local governments which sought to enforce immigration laws, remove potential Communists from government, and encourage pro-American curriculum standards. In the mid-1920s, the union led a push to triple teacher retirement pay in California, but the California governor vetoed the bill. The union also failed to prevent legislative restrictions on tenure passed in 1921 and 1926. In the 1930s, the CSFT supported President Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal platform, but CSFT was steadily defeated in its push to implement left-of-center state-level labor initiatives. 
The CSFT developed a long-standing rivalry with the California Teachers Association (CTA), the dominant teachers union in California throughout the first half of the 20th century. In 1939, 37,000 out of 42,000 teachers in California belonged to the CTA. Meanwhile, by 1930, the CSFT’s membership had declined to 500. In 1941, the organization was down to 250 members, and the AFT revoked its membership for failing to maintain five chapters. In 1944, CSFT rejoined the AFT. 
In 1960, the CSFT began protesting against House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) meetings in which federal officials questioned the extent of Communism in the entertainment industry. At these protests, CSFT membership spread through college students to university professors, and the CSFT began to rapidly expand its membership. In 1961, the CSFT won its first major legislative victory in decades with the passage of a law that required administrators to give all teachers a hearing before being fired. In 1963, the CSFT was renamed the California Federation of Teachers (CFT). By the 1970s, the union had 15,000 members. 
The CFT began to diverge from the AFT by pursuing a broader left-wing agenda. At its 1969 convention, the CFT voted to condemn the Vietnam War, support abortion access, and support affirmative action. In 1973, the CFT, CTA, and California Federation of Labor pushed for a state collective bargaining bill. The California State Assembly passed the bill, but then-Governor Ronald Reagan (R) vetoed it. By 1975, the CFT had 30,000 members. 
In the 1980s, the CFT narrowly lost control of the bargaining rights within the California State University system but gained a majority membership in the California Community College system. In 1983, the union failed to stop California Governor George Deukmejian (R) from removing $250 million in funding from community colleges and instituting a $50 million tuition increase. In 1986, the CFT passed a resolution opposing the Contras, an anti-Communist faction in Nicaragua. By the late 1980s, the CFT had 32,000 members. 
In 2010, CFT members contributed $3,312,240 to campaigns for California ballot initiatives, the eighth-highest number of contributions by a single organization’s members in the state of California. 
2020 Federal Elections
In the 2020 election cycle, the AFT and CFT endorsed former Vice President and Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden.  The CFT also endorsed Democratic candidates for all 52 congressional seats in California. 
2020 California Elections
The CFT also endorsed failed Propositions 18 and 21. Proposition 18 aimed to permit individuals who turn 18 before the general election but not before the primary elections to vote in primary elections.  Proposition 21 sought to allow local governments to implement rent control on housing first occupied at least 15 years ago.  CFT further supported Proposition 25, a measure to eliminate cash bail and replace it with a flight-risk assessment system, which failed. 
The CFT also opposed a number of initiatives including Proposition 20 and Proposition 22. Proposition 20 aimed to repeal a number of left-of-center criminal justice reforms and was defeated.  Proposition 22 aimed to define app-based ridesharing drivers as independent contractors, and the proposition passed. 
In 2020, the CFT passed resolutions to support Black Lives Matter, oppose President Donald Trump, endorse the CROWN Act to ban racial discrimination based on hair styles, and support a program that encourages most teachers to donate their government stimulus checks to support low-income individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, the CFT passed resolutions to oppose President Trump’s executive order to ban transgender individuals from the military, oppose President Trump’s immigration policies, support the creation of a federal tax on financial speculation, and support the environmentalist Green New Deal. 
The CFT works with left-of-center advocacy groups to support its political goals. Its listed community partners include the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, BlueGreen Alliance, California Calls, California Partnership, Courage Campaign, PICO California, and Power California. 
California Federation of Teachers PAC
The California Federation of Teachers PAC operated in the 1998 and 2000 election cycles, spending a combined $12,000. The PAC disbanded after 2000. 
Demands During the COVID-19 Pandemic
When schools closed in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CFT initially called for the continued closure of schools, but eventually recommended openings with significant financial support from the California state government. 
On May 2, the CFT passed a COVID-19 resolution declaring support for numerous policies to protect teachers’ interests during the pandemic, including resistance to any measures to lay off teachers, furlough teachers, cut teacher pay, or increase class sizes. 
On July 13, the CFT issued a public letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) and the California state government urging schools to not restart in-person teaching in the fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter commended the state government for averting planned education budget cuts but condemned the state for keeping the budget at the same level as the previous year rather than embracing “war-effort-level” emergency spending on education. 
The letter demanded five criteria for reopening schools: a decline in cases for 14 days in both the county and state, the implementation of mandatory periodic COVID-19 testing for students and teachers, the provision of personal safety and cleaning equipment to schools and independent organizations, the involvement of parents and unions in COVID-19 response planning, and an increase in general education funding. 
With few of the demands met, the CFT called for schools to close throughout the fall of 2020.