An email from JD Beltran, CCA adjunct faculty member, was recently forwarded to the members of my department via the department chair, opposing the union in the upcoming election. Here is my response to JD, and of course to anyone who is thinking about the union election. I asked the department to forward my message as well. They refused, though did include a list of all the department emails so I could send it myself. Please forward my response to as many people as you are able, both adjunct colleagues and others who are trying to influence the campaign.
Vote YES for the Union!
Senior Adjunct Faculty, Critical Studies
I wish I could say I was surprised by your email—I wasn't, but I was disappointed. Since I also teach at SFAI, I was aware of your last-minute campaign there to derail the union election; you are using the same strategy here at CCA. As you know, 80% of VIsiting Faculty at SFAI voted in the election, and 78% voted YES. They must have a different outlook than you do. I believe a majority of our CCA colleagues will also vote YES, as I am proud to do myself.
I've been teaching here at CCA as adjunct faculty for eight years, long enough to observe how administration policies affect adjuncts and lecturers. For example, just when someone might become eligible for health insurance benefits, they are not hired for a semester, and the clock starts again. There are many stories from our colleagues who have found the system used against their interests. And of course, the whole system works against our interests. It is not set up to serve us, but to use our precarious status as a way to balance the budget. Myself, I have been very fortunate within the possibilities for adjunct faculty. But those possibilities have their limits, including among others:
• inadequate salaries (compared to the worst institutions, not so bad; compared to what ranked faculty are paid, inequitable; teaching essentially full time for poverty-level wages)
• insecure positions (even after many years, hired one year at a time)
• inequitable access to benefits
• expectations of professional accomplishments with no remuneration
• infrequent and irregular access to routes for advancement
Forty years ago, three-quarters of faculty nationwide were tenured or tenure-track. Now three-quarters are part of the precariate. The issues we face here at CCA are part of a much broader challenge to higher education. That's why adjunct faculty across the country are unionizing: not only to improve working conditions at their own schools, but to join a larger movement to start rethinking how colleges and universities are organized. Are we following the WalMart model, where employees are underpaid and overworked, part-time with unpredictable schedules, unable to speak openly for fear of losing their jobs; or is there a different model that looks for equitable treatment of all faculty and staff, living wages and steady work, academic freedom, freedom of conscience? We want to talk about the purpose of higher education. What are the missions of our institutions? When we say we stand for social justice, what do we mean?
Without answering your specific objections to start, I just want to comment that your message is straight out of the Union Busting 101 textbook, the part where managers recruit potential union members to bring management's arguments against the union. Those arguments always begin with a kind gesture of concern, raising doubts (this isn't the best union for you, do you really think they can represent college faculty? etc.) and urging delay (in this case, let's wait and see how negotiations turn out at the Mills and SFAI). The point is not to generate a clear alternative, but to muddy the picture of what a yes vote means. Intimidation is another tactic that can come into play when numerous “no” messages are circulated via managerial channels, such as department chairs, or higher status staff, such as tenured faculty. Of course, the administration is enrolled in the same union-busting course that you are taking for a second time.
What kind of power do adjuncts and lecturers have in relationship with the administration? As things stand now, some of us have individually negotiated better conditions than others. Some of us are dismissed when we ask for more or different. We have no organization that represents us as a group, and little basis for such a group. Until I got involved in the union campaign, I hardly knew colleagues beyond my own department. Do we need a union? I think we do. A union gives us legal standing that remains regardless of who are the members of the administration. We can negotiate for equity and transparency. We can negotiate for policies that begin to turn the tide of increasing insecurity for most college faculty, including the MFA graduates who want to teach. We can openly organize to represent ourselves. Without a union, we are all vulnerable.
In a way, we don't need a union in our collective negotiations with administration, because it will be union members ourselves who carry out negotiations. However, as part of a union, we will have the advice of researchers, attorneys, and experienced negotiators. We will have ready communication with
• our colleagues at other institutions represented by SEIU, our own Local 1021 which also represents Mills and SFAI, and probably more colleges to come,
• SEIU Local 1983 which is also called the California Faculty Association, representing all the faculty at the California State Universities
• SEIU Local 500 which has been representing adjuncts in Washington, DC since 2008,
• the broader coalition Adjunct Action, which has been developing organizing resources for adjunct faculty.
If we have felt lonely before, we aren't now!
As I mentioned above, delay is a primary tactic of anti-union professionals. We have been actively organizing at CCA since February. We had a series of meetings open to all adjuncts and lecturers this summer, publicized via CCA email addresses, as well as any private email addresses we could gather. Some of us have been meeting regularly with union organizers to understand the process of organizing better. Others have developed an excellent website ccaadjuncts.weebly.com to share information and discussion. Some have individually contacted colleagues to share their concerns and their commitment to forming a union. This is not a rush job. The information has been out there for all to find, and we have shared it as broadly as we could. You say we could always have SEIU represent us later. Why not now?
It's not SEIU that says they need to represent us. We want to join a union that is committed to working with adjunct faculty for the long term, and that is already working with colleagues at other institutions (as you yourself have pointed out, some of "them" are "us"). We have already begun inter-campus meetings to share concerns and experiences. Each college is different, each college faces different challenges (unrelated budget crunches at Mills, a newer administration at SFAI), but we are all part of the same profession, and share similar concerns regarding working conditions. As you say, there are some paths to long-term job security, but not for most of us. Some of us have access to health insurance and retirement, but not all of us. We believe that people who work for institutions should have access to these benefits, without having to actively avoid slipping through administrative cracks.
It's true that once we join SEIU, we would have to have another election if we wanted to opt out. But given the experience of adjunct unions and faculty unions in general across the country, I don't know why you would anticipate a desire to leave the union. The union is us: we set the priorities for negotiation; we are the negotiators; we provide our own representation in disagreements over faculty working conditions. We have the support of the larger union. Do you think that we would not be able to represent ourselves even with the support of SEIU? Then why would you argue that we could just represent ourselves without a union?
Joining a union is not quite like shopping for a dress. It's true that there are different unions that represent faculty. In Pittsburgh, it's the Steelworkers, but we don't have a strong Steelworkers local here. SEIU is a strong union, and not coincidentally, is dedicating a lot of research to adjunct faculty working conditions and their institutions. SEIU has made a national commitment to working with adjunct faculty. They already successfully represent faculty at a number of colleges, and more than 21,000 have voted for SEIU representation. It will be to our advantage to have ready collaboration with colleagues at other SEIU bargaining units (oops, I'm starting to use union lingo).
We hope that SEIU's representation will affect current working relations and communications in positive ways. Colleagues who do not speak out for fear of losing their jobs will have legal standing in the case of retaliation. Colleagues who have found the CCA system difficult to negotiate, whether because of strategic use of temporary layoffs or inequitable treatment, will have a more transparent system for developing their expectations. And those of us like myself, who have been fortunate within the terms of current CCA practice, will have confidence that our colleagues are being treated fairly, as well as the hope of improved working conditions. We say that "Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions."
JD, you are right. Everyone's vote matters. The results of the vote will affect all of us. No means status quo or worse; Yes means representation and a stronger future. If you would like any more information regarding the points I have raised, check out the Weebly page, http://ccaadjuncts.weebly.com/, or send me a message. The information is there; the election is upon us. I urge everyone to vote YES!
Please circulate this message as widely as you can.
Vote YES for the union!
Carol J. Manahan
Senior Adjunct Faculty
California College of the Arts