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Another View From Washington: ‘Systematically Organize Adjuncts to Take Power’

In response to Keith Hoeller’s recent post, I might pose an alternate perspective to the position that FT and PT faculty have irreconcilable differences and an all-faculty solidarity is impossible.

First, though, let me say that I am an adjunct also in Washington State; I understand that faculty unions here have never squarely confronted the problem of a divided faculty and in particular the exploitation of adjuncts, our union’s weakest links. The case that Jack Longmate mentions where a measure of job security for adjuncts was signed away by an all-FTer bargaining team is certainly disappointing and a cautionary tale, but the truth is that it must have been a mostly FT union bargaining team that won that job security in the first place.

It is inaccurate to say that AFT/NEA have done nothing for adjuncts in WA, especially considering that we are the only state in the nation to have won the right to unemployment for adjuncts in all breaks via union political action (see details here).

There are historical and contemporary reasons to be frustrated that public faculty unions are not doing all they can, but we should understand that taking a categorical and polemical stand against united faculty unions is at best, one side of the story. If anyone knows of the Vancouver Model of Vancouver Community College in British Columbia, adjuncts there in the ’80s built coalition with egalitarian FTers, overcame reactionaries, took over the union, and now virtually 100% of faculty are FTers and everyone is on the same pay scale.

The only problem with Keith’s thesis is that what the coalition that VCC adjuncts and egalitarian FTers built has never seriously been tried in Washington State. By this I mean not a gadfly phenomenon, but systematically organizing adjuncts to take power in our union and building a coalition with those egalitarian FTers. This means using time-tested union organizing techniques like systematic faculty to faculty communication and organizing conversation. In fact, we are working on just such an alliance at my community college in preparation for our 2015 contract.

Perhaps we will succeed in building a united and progressive coalition (well on our way)…and maybe we won’t. Perhaps we will build enough power among a united faculty to create more secure and better working conditions for the weakest faculty, and maybe we won’t. But I know this: The boss knows that divided, faculty are weaker, and embracing that division doesn’t change that fact. Also, it is better to try to accomplish what we know VCC did some years ago, than to throw in the towel before a real effort to build PT faculty power within a democratic organization has truly been attempted. Not saying it’s not hard work organizing and often frustrating work or that some local unions might have more propitious conditions than others. At Pierce College, we are perhaps currently luckier than at Olympic just now….

As far as Yeshiva, the NLRB said it was perfectly appropriate for all private sector faculty to be in the same unit. The NLRB was overruled by a Reagan-era Supreme Court that has not been particularly friendly towards labor-friendly law. As we know from the Citizens United ruling, the LEAST democratic part of our system of government does not shy away from tilting the power schema toward corporations and away from unions every chance it gets. Calling ALL private sector FT faculty as management is nothing more than another chisel tap, and citing it as a legitimate decision is unfortunate.

Perhaps this is just the other side of the polemic, but there is value in having both on the table so that folks have the spectrum. I certainly learn a lot from Keith and Jack’s perspectives and I am sure I will have much more to learn, but I also hope that we will demonstrate by our contract campaign at Pierce College that a united faculty is not only possible, but gets the goods we all want and deserve as faculty.

Tom McCarthy, Pierce College Federation of Teachers Membership Coordinator

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