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Solidarity W/ NYU Grad Workers Re Union Accountability, Transparency, Representation

The following statement was released today by three members of the NYU Graduate Student Organizing Committee local of UAW, calling for accountability, transparency, and representation in their union’s contract bargaining with NYU. We’re inspired by their example and stand in solidarity with them. All unions must function democratically, not just pay lip service to such.

GSOCBCstatementJuly2014

Slavery/Abolition/Apartheid/Segregation Comparisons to Contingent Academic Labor: No

Earlier this week the open letter to the CUNY union leadership was posted to the AAUP’s Academe blog, which spurred two additional posts (here and here) as well as many comments (and I encourage you to read them all, as they helpfully illuminate the deep fissures between full-timer-dominated unions and academic associations on the one hand and contingent academic laborers on the other).

Unfortunately, though predictably, a slavery comparison cropped up in one of the comments in relation to the open letter, and as the author of the open letter, I wanted to make clear that I disagree with any such comparison. I posted the following comment to the Academe blog post that contains the comment in question.

I thank everyone for their support of the open letter and the related campaign for the representation of contingent academic laborers in full-timer-dominated unions—a national effort as the comments show.

I want to comment on the “slave-labor conditions” comparison in the second comment above. I’ve critiqued such comparisons on Twitter—and many more knowledgeable folks than I have written powerful critiques of it (for one particularly good example, see here)—but because this comparison is now cropping up in relation to the open letter, I need to say that I disagree with any and all comparisons between contingent academic labor and racialized social and economic control of any kind, whether slavery, segregation, apartheid, or any other form. Such comparisons, unfortunately, are a consistent trend in rhetoric on contingent academic labor.

I disagree with such comparisons both because, to me, they’re inaccurate—contingent academic laborers aren’t chattel, or property, or legally separated or denied civil equality, or racialized in any way qua their contingent labor—and because such comparisons are highly offensive to many people who are racialized, especially African-Americans who still deal with the multifarious legacies of slavery and Jim Crow today. Such comparisons are also offensive to many people who aren’t racialized by dint of their white privilege, including me.

The comparisons are also unnecessary to make the case that contingent academic labor and the two-tier academic labor system are unfair: both are patently unfair on their face. Even with the question of reform vs. “abolition”—and, for what it’s worth, I think we need to reform the unfair academic-labor system at the same time as we work to abolish it—it’s unnecessary to refer to the abolition of slavery (as I’ve seen elsewhere) to make the case for the abolition of the academic-labor system. The present system should be abolished for the very straightforward reasons that it’s deeply unfair and keeps people impoverished. (This is also, by the way, why I support the abolition of capitalism.)

Furthermore, the abolition of slavery was a highly complicated process that can’t be reduced to a metaphor (much like slavery/apartheid/segregation can’t): it had as much to do with U.S. westward expansion, for instance, and the question of whether new territories should allow slavery, as anything else—which is to say that the abolition of slavery was predicated in part on the further dispossession and genocide of indigenous communities. That dreadful connection comes with any reference to the abolition of slavery—and, again, we deal with the legacies of both slavery and indigenous dispossession and genocide today.

Finally, these comparisons to racialized social and economic control betray the fact that both the students and faculty of higher education remain largely white, and that higher education actually works as a form of racialized social and economic control, as does public education at all levels given the gross inequities of educational resources, on top of the gross inequities of economic and social resources at large. Indeed, because racial discrimination, in both overt and covert ways, remains a potent force in U.S. society, racialized students and faculty, including contingents, experience greater challenges, inside and outside academia, than their white counterparts. And though higher education staff tend to be appreciably more racially diverse than students or faculty (for a variety of reasons), that doesn’t diminish the challenges racialized staff members face.

All of these aforementioned issues are apparent to me in my academic research and, especially, in my teaching and organizing at CUNY, a highly stratified public university that not only reflects its highly stratified city but contributes to the city’s stratification, as I note in the open letter.

Just wanted to make my thoughts known since I’m responsible for the open letter, even as it continues to take on a life of its own.

Warmly,

Sean M. Kennedy

A Look Back: The CUNY Contingent Struggle Against the New Caucus, 2006-2008

When the Adjunct Project joined with CUNY Contingents Unite and other groups and individuals in May to initiate the $5k petition, we were reminded of the “Adjunct Rebellion at CUNY” vis-a-vis contract negotiations between the New Caucus-led Professional Staff Congress and the CUNY administration from 2006 to 2008. The following piece from the CUNY Internationalist Clubs’ paper Revolution (which doesn’t post every article online, hence the below scan) details this rebellion and shows, once again, that the PSC leadership—the same leadership as today—hasn’t ever represented contingent academic workers properly. To wit:

“The contract the PSC settled with CUNY in June 2006 left the abysmal conditions of contingent faculty in place. An adjunct activist who is a CUNY Internationalist Clubs member spoke at the union’s Delegate Assembly calling for a ‘no’ vote on the contract. However, while many ‘part-timers’ were deeply dissatisfied, by and large they tended to buy the promises of the union leadership (organized in the social-democratic ‘New Caucus’ of union president Barbara Bowen) that ‘adjunct issues’ would be a priority in future rounds. Some also wanted to avoid criticizing the union officers at a time when the New Caucus was running for reelection, facing a right-wing opposition called CUNY Alliance.

“That contract expired in September 2007. The next month, the union launched its new contract campaign at a mass meeting in Cooper Union, where hundreds chanted ‘Fight, fight, fight!’ and cheered adjunct activists’ calls for a militant mobilization. At the rally, Bowen put forward key priorities for this ‘phase’ of the union’s ‘multi-contract strategy.’ […] When adjunct activists asked the union’s negotiating committee to make a commitment to not sign a contract that would increase the gap between full- and part-time faculty, they were told that ‘the strategy’ had already been decided…by the negotiating committee and Executive Council. In other words, forget it. […]

“On June 20, the PSC leaders and CUNY management reached a ‘settlement’ that did nothing to move towards job security for adjuncts and other contingent faculty, left their wages at poverty levels (providing below-inflation raises for full-time faculty, while widening the gap with part-timers’ pay), and left the issue of health insurance for grad students to future negotiations with the city and state.

“CUNY contingent activists reacted with outrage. Adjuncts long active in the union joined with grad students from the Adjunct Project to launch an unprecedented campaign for a ‘no’ vote. […]”

Click the images below to read the whole article from the September 2008 issue of Revolution.

CCU New Caucus struggle 2006-08

CCU New Caucus 2

CCU New Caucus 3 copy

CCU New Caucus 4 cropped

Day 16–No Response from CUNY Union Pres.

Tuesday, May 13th, at 3:40 p.m. I sent an open letter to Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, CUNY’s union, with the subject line “Open letter re your De Blasio statement & your exclusion of adjuncts and graduate student workers.” I copied the union’s first vice-president, treasurer, vice-president for part-time personnel, and executive director on the email, all people we Adjunct Project coordinators have worked with, or attempted to work with, this academic year. I also copied 11 of the 12 members of the newly reconstituted (and elected) Graduate Center chapter slate, omitting one member because I couldn’t find an email for that person. Finally, I copied two higher education officers (HEOs) at the Graduate Center, one of whom is a cross-campus officer on the executive council of the union, both of whom, working together, put together the Graduate Center slate (with no input solicited from the Adjunct Project).

There have been three responses from these 18 people to date, the most recent of which came from a member of the Graduate Center chapter slate, Michelle Fine, who emailed Saturday, May 17, that she was speaking with graduate students, adjuncts, and other members of the slate about the issues raised in the open letter. We welcomed this info. (See a previous update for details of the two earlier responses.)

Additionally, another member of the Graduate Center chapter slate, Michelle Chen, who was not among the original recipients of the letter because I couldn’t find her email address, has signed the letter.

I am now sending the letter again to the aforementioned recipients, plus Chen (as I now have her email address), along with the names and affiliations of the 176 signers.

The union leaders and chapter leaders are supposed to represent us. It’s not the other way around.

Read and sign the letter here, or leave a comment here with your name and affiliation (if you have one—it’s not necessary).

There are now 176 of us, from across CUNY and the U.S., inside and outside of higher ed.

Every day the union leadership doesn’t respond to us only emphasizes our lack of representation.

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

Day 10–No Response from CUNY Union Pres.

Tuesday, May 13th, at 3:40 p.m. I sent an open letter to Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, CUNY’s union, with the subject line “Open letter re your De Blasio statement & your exclusion of adjuncts and graduate student workers.” I copied the union’s first vice-president, treasurer, vice-president for part-time personnel, and executive director on the email, all people we Adjunct Project coordinators have worked with, or attempted to work with, this academic year. I also copied 11 of the 12 members of the newly reconstituted (and elected) Graduate Center chapter slate, omitting one member because I couldn’t find an email for that person. Finally, I copied two higher education officers (HEOs) at the Graduate Center, one of whom is a cross-campus officer on the executive council of the union, both of whom, working together, put together the Graduate Center slate (with no input solicited from the Adjunct Project).

There have been three responses from these 18 people to date, the most recent of which came from a member of the Graduate Center chapter slate, Michelle Fine, who emailed Saturday that she was speaking with graduate students, adjuncts, and other members of the slate about the issues raised in the open letter. We welcomed this info. (See a previous update for details of the two earlier responses.)

Additionally, another member of the Graduate Center chapter slate, Michelle Chen, who was not among the original recipients of the letter because I couldn’t find her email address, has signed the letter.

Today we posted an additional statement of support for the letter campaign, from Borough of Manhattan Community College assistant professor and Graduate Center alum Arto Artinian, who notes the “profound break” in democracy at the union.

I am now sending the letter again to the aforementioned recipients, plus Chen (as I now have her email address), along with the names and affiliations of the 173 signers.

The union leaders and chapter leaders are supposed to represent us. It’s not the other way around.

Read and sign the letter here, or leave a comment here with your name and affiliation (if you have one).

There are now 173 of us, from across CUNY and the U.S., inside and outside of higher ed.

Every day the union leadership doesn’t respond to us only emphasizes our lack of representation.

‘Our Union Has to Fight for the Most Vulnerable’–A BMCC Prof.’s Response

I agree with Mike’s points.

Still, total silence from Barbara on [the] open letter.

Our union has to go back to first principles: fight united—first and foremost—for those brothers and sisters who are most vulnerable.

What happens for adjunct faculty when their health insurance is cut in a month? I read the letter that was circulated, and after three reads, I still could not figure out what an adjunct is supposed to do (they are advised to “continue with scheduled medical appointments”??).

At a bare minimum, this is a profound break in internal union solidarity and democracy. Adjuncts are the teaching majority, they pay dues, but their most immediate concerns (pay, job security, and health insurance) are being de facto disregarded.  The PSC is not a union of “full-timers” only, last time I checked.

As first steps, we need to hear a public response to [the open] letter, with a clear explanation of how, when, and why the $5K demand, and the continued provision of health insurance, will be addressed by the PSC leadership in the current moment.

Arto Artinian, assistant professor, political science, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY

Day 9–No Response from CUNY Union Pres.

Tuesday at 3:40 p.m. I sent an open letter to Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, CUNY’s union, with the subject line “Open letter re your De Blasio statement & your exclusion of adjuncts and graduate student workers.” I copied the union’s first vice-president, treasurer, vice-president for part-time personnel, and executive director on the email, all people we Adjunct Project coordinators have worked with, or attempted to work with, this academic year. I also copied 11 of the 12 members of the newly reconstituted (and elected) Graduate Center chapter slate, omitting one member because I couldn’t find an email for that person. Finally, I copied two higher education officers (HEOs) at the Graduate Center, one of whom is a cross-campus officer on the executive council of the union, both of whom, working together, put together the Graduate Center slate (with no input solicited from the Adjunct Project).

There have been three responses from these 18 people to date, the most recent of which came from a member of the Graduate Center chapter slate, Michelle Fine, who emailed Saturday that she was speaking with graduate students, adjuncts, and other members of the slate about the issues raised in the open letter. We welcomed this info. (See a previous update for details of the two earlier responses.)

Additionally, another member of the Graduate Center chapter slate, Michelle Chen, who was not among the original recipients of the letter because I couldn’t find her email address, has signed the letter.

Today we posted two additional statements of support for the letter campaign, the first from Graduate Center alum and longtime CUNY adjunct Mike Friedman, the second from longtime adjunct activist Keith Hoeller, of Washington state’s Green River Community College.

I am now sending the letter again to the aforementioned recipients, plus Chen (as I now have her email address), along with the names and affiliations of the 170 signers.

The union leaders and chapter leaders are supposed to represent us. It’s not the other way around.

Read and sign the letter here, or leave a comment here with your name and affiliation (if you have one).

There are now 170 of us, from across CUNY and the U.S., inside and outside of higher ed. Every day the union leadership doesn’t respond to us only emphasizes our lack of representation.

Our Struggle With the Union Isn’t Unique–A View From a Washington State Community College

The problem adjuncts are having with PSC in New York is far from unique. Whenever adjuncts, who have no job security, are placed into units with tenure-track faculty, the latter tend to dominate. The problem is that the two-tier system creates numerous conflicts of interests between the two tiers and advantages the tenured faculty.

Jack Longmate has pointed out how his NEA union, with few adjuncts and only one handpicked adjunct on the bargaining team (the wife of the union Vice President), bargained away the automatic seniority system for all adjuncts in return for a few multi-quarter contracts that a) no one may end up getting, and b) must be renewed each and every year. At least 80% of the Olympic College adjuncts have lost their job seniority.

At Green River Community College, our AFT-NEA union has many similarities with Jack’s union at Olympic College. It has long been run by and for tenured faculty, especially the Division Chairs who dominate the union executive board. The union contract has long read like a system of Jim Crow laws, basically locking the adjuncts out of nearly everything of any importance.

The Green River union is negotiating its first contract in ten years. The tenure-track faculty have been so happy with it, they have rolled it over three times.

There are 150 full-timers and 400 adjuncts at Green River. There are NO adjuncts on the bargaining team. To my knowledge, no adjuncts have ever been placed on the official bargaining team in 40 years. The current team is headed by the union president, who is tenured, and four tenured division chairs.

We wrote to the union president twice, copying the board and all faculty. We insisted that the union add three adjuncts to the five-member bargaining team. We wanted the adjuncts to elect these people.

The union president responded with a brief note ignoring our request, which we first made in October of last year. Not a single tenured faculty member has written to support our request.

In mixed units, grievances for adjuncts are nearly non-existent, especially when they are initiated by actions taken against adjuncts by tenured faculty. Our union always sides with the tenured faculty. We have filed a dozen grievances in the last 18 months, and the union has refused to take any of them to arbitration. The college knows in advance the union will not arbitrate, so there is little incentive for the college to rule in favor of an adjunct, and thereby anger the tenured faculty who control the union.

In effect, our union refuses to enforce the contract when it comes to adjuncts.

I believe this is why in the private sector the NLRB forbids putting tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty in the same bargaining unit. Many states forbid it as well. In Washington, state law forces us into the same unit, which is why we are trying to change it.

Cordially,

Keith Hoeller, Seattle, WA

On ‘Two Tier’ and the Second-Rate Adjunct Health Plan–A Graduate Center Alum’s Response

Although Batson cries foul and claims that “the [PSC] leadership shares the same exact goal of the overwhelming majority of adjuncts—to do away with this horrible two-tier system”—this flies in the face of reality. In practice the PSC leadership has consistently demonstrated that it accepts Two Tier as the institutional and operational framework for labor-management relations. Our demands are merely bargaining chips for them, while they circle the wagons around the most pressing demands of full-timers, their actual “bottom line demands.” They occasionally procure crumbs for us from the masters’ table. Then, according to Bowen and company, we should be “patient”: these are “steps in the right direction.”

The crown jewel of their claim to defend contingents’ interests is our second rate, soon-to-die health plan. But, they had to produce something back in 2007 or 8, because they knew the adjunct health situation was becoming a pressure-cooker, and that the New Caucus, in fact, won the PSC election largely because of that pressure-cooker. During my ten years as a doctoral student at the Grad Center, I went without health care, dental care or eye-care, relying on our sole recourse to the resident nurse practitioner. Then the Grad Center eliminated her position in a budget cut. The health plan we got was second rate. And Bowen and company have hinted that the plan they are negotiating will fall short of the current one. From the outset, the union strategy should have been to demand our inclusion in the faculty health plan, should we choose it. That should have been what was put on the table, on the one hand, and that should have been infused into the very soul of CUNY faculty via a concerted campaign by the PSC leadership.

Their tacit acceptance of Two Tier is sometimes (often?) made explicit, as when they quite deliberately and casually disenfranchised adjuncts for the Pathways “referendum” in the name of expediency.

The union leadership’s acceptance of Two Tier reflects an even deeper level of labor institutionality in our society. Under the historic NLRA, the only fully legal recourse of trade unions was the grievance process, representing a shift from a conception of labor struggle that was collective and direct, to one that was individual and legalistic/institutional (this shift was then enforced through Taft-Hartley and the Taylor Law). Union leaders, anxious not to rock the boat, accepted this shift. Two Tier makes a farce of even this legalistic recourse. Our very insecurity makes us vulnerable should we challenge management abuses. Back in 2002, I was sent a letter of non-reappointment by a CUNY school, shortly after receiving a letter of reappointment. They were not even required to give an explanation. The union filed a grievance, and then agreed to settle after step I for a monetary award, but without winning the grievance. And, of course, I was never able to get a job at that school again. I had a similar outcome when I complained about a health-threatening condition at another school. This time the union didn’t even file a grievance, and I lost any chance of a future position at that school.

Bowen and others have often enough thrown the ball back into our court, claiming that we are too apathetic or heterogeneous. This is an excuse for inaction. They are “leaders”; union leaders; allegedly socially conscious union leaders. Their role is to lead. It is to “educate, agitate and organize” the entire union around adjunct issues. They have some excellent theorists of Freirian pedagogy among the PSC membership. They should use those tools to raise awareness among their own members of the necessity—ultimately, a life or death necessity for the union, itself—of championing adjunct needs. As history has shown, any union leadership worth its salt—and the most successful labor struggles—has placed the needs of the most vulnerable members FIRST.

We adjuncts under Two Tier are essentially academic braceros. And like our undocumented immigrant worker brethren, we need a “Path to Citizenship.” THAT should be explicitly at the heart of the PSC’s strategy, the sine qua non.

In solidarity,

Mike Friedman

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