Hello Again Good Adjuncts:
Sorry I’ve been away from my post for a while, but I have been fighting the good fight in other venues.
There’s an old saying which goes to the effect of “What does a Leftist firing squad look like?”, with the answer being “A circle in which all shooters are facing to the right.”
As an adjunct activist, I’ve been focusing a goodly amount of attention to planning for events around the “National Adjunct Walkout Day” (NAWD) slated for February 25th, and I must say that to some extent, the above saying is applicable. First of all, here’s a little background. The idea for a National Adjunct walkout Day, or as it has been otherwise termed “A Day without Adjuncts”, was apparently first proposed by an anonymous California adjunct in February of 2014, with a Facebook post on October 1st. I know that in some circles we were talking about it during the summer, and I was certainly pondering it last September when I started planning events for Campus Equity Week. Other than a call for a walkout by anonymous adjunct, there was little else. Over time, as interest in the activity began to pick up steam, groups like the CPFA and others in California began to think more seriously about the event. For better or worse, the nameless adjunct who proposed the activity has not wanted to make the event structured around a particular agenda, but was simply encouraging other adjuncts to act up.
This I, and certainly other activists, plan to do, but this is where things get interesting.
As you may know from my earlier posts, I sit as the Adjunct Rep. for San Diego Mesa and Southwestern Community Colleges, which are affiliated with the CFT and CTA respectively. Contrary to the Hollywood movies you see, unions are not about engaging in work stoppages to hold management hostage at whim. Unions are essentially worker-based organizations whose main task is to collectively bargain with management for working conditions, salary, and benefits for their employees. In fact, work stoppages, otherwise known as strikes, happen only when the contract cannot be negotiated and only after a long process which may be for years after a contract expires. Even then, the union is required to put the matter of going to strike up for a vote, and then, only if the membership votes for a strike can a strike happen. At the California community college level, there have been extremely few such strikes (a number once quoted to me was “three”, though I suspect there are perhaps a few more). Some reasons for the limited number of strikes are that many workers, particularly adjuncts, already living hand-to-mouth, can ill-afford the loss of wages; the inevitable disenfranchisement of students is usually a public relations nightmare for teachers and management alike’ and, in nearly all cases, the aforementioned strikes didn’t get results that were hoped for.
What this brief explanation is leading to is this: Unions can’t call for a general walkout unless their contract negotiations have long been at impasse, and to do so would constitute in terms of labor law, an illegal act. This in turn can jeopardize the existing contract, or lead to a judgment against the union should the negotiations go to arbitration. Further, the union cannot legally protect its workers from being disciplined or fired. In other words, unions cannot call for adjuncts to walkout, or directly sanction a work stoppage.
I actually tried to communicate this with some adjuncts on a NAWD forum site, only to be informed that I should indicate where I’m eligible to practice labor law because it’s “different from state to state”. Well, I’m sorry to say that this more or less applies to national labor law as well, and if it means protecting the adjuncts and contract I’m supposed to support by informing them of this inconvenient truth, then so be it. So no, the unions aren’t going to push for a walk out, but I can say for my locals at least, no one is going to actively dissuade people from taking any kind of action insomuch as it is non-violent, and doesn’t directly block other people from accessing facilities or doing their own jobs.
There are however still many things that unions can, should, and will do.
Clearly, for a long and exhaustive list of reasons expressed in previous posts on this blog and elsewhere, the time for a strong message expressing disappointment, disgust and anger at the exploitive and fraudulent practices associated with adjunctification on a national level has come. Further, on nearly all community college campuses, the adjunct faculty make up the majority of instructors, and in many cases, teach the majority of classes at a particular campus. It is therefore incumbent upon the teacher’s unions that represent these adjuncts that not simply the issue of the NAWD but of adjunctification.
For my part, I’m more agenda-driven than the anonymous adjunct who called for NAWD, because, in California at least, CFT and the CPFA in particular have put forth aline-item budgetary proposal calling for specific funding for 1) adjunct office hours, 2) adjunct parity pay, 3) an increase in funding for more full-time positions. In addition, both CFT and CTA are in the process of crafting rehire rights legislation. Further, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin has tried putting forth student loan forgiveness legislation for adjuncts. I like the idea of using the NAWD for pushing these items because while the litany of adjunct complaints is very long, and the oft proposed solutions to these issues can be murky or simply not structured in a way that they play with the politicians, these are specific and pointed proposals that will provide some redress. Moreover, these proposals have not been simply put forward on a whim, but were thought out in terms of the budgetary and political opportunities that exist. With regard to California, the passage of Prop 30 and the improving economy have created a real opportunity.
It is the enactment of these proposals and legislation that would make a great plan of action for the NAWD.
The big issue now is how to get it out there, and what NAWD should look like. Many people are in a fuss just about the name NAWD, and in particular the “walkout” part of it. It should come to no surprise to anyone reading this blog that faculty unions have been regarded cynically as being largely for and about the preservation of salary and working conditions for contract, or full-time employees, at the expense of adjuncts/part-timers/associates/contingents (choose which you like best—the state of California officially calls us “temporary employees”). Sometimes, though not always, this has been true with some locals.
Therefore, when several locals began to express interest in doing something regarding NAWD, they (we) were accused of trying to “co-opt” the event. People like myself were then alternately told by other adjuncts that we should not call what we’re proposing to do a “walkout”, because the unions can’t and won’t “walkout”, or that the “walkout” name should be preserved for the event for to call it anything else would somehow lessen its impact and point.
First of all, for the reasons I gave above, unions do need to speak to both the NAWD, and to the issues of adjunctification. They have resources and political muscle (largely built off of adjunct union dues) and can assist adjuncts in expressing their message.
Second, some adjuncts, for any number of reasons, may not feel comfortable about walking out yet would like to speak to the same concerns. In this case, the unions can help facilitate this.
Third, my involvement with the NAWD, and I feel I can speak comfortably for the other adjunct union activists I’m working with, is no so much about making the union or its local look good, but about making the union do what it should. To my local unions’ credit, they have allowed and encouraged the adjunct reps to put together their own planning. The only specific demand I’ve been given is that I give them an estimate of what I want to spend on the event.
Fourth, adjuncts are not the only stakeholders here. Adjunctifcation hurts students, contract instructors, communities, and yes, even administrators who are now having to stand before legislators and explain why they have crappy student retention and completion rates. In fact, if this message is not sold and pushed in CAPITAL LETTERS, then one had better pray for hell to freeze over because that’s about the time change will come otherwise.
Here’s a not so little surprise for you my good adjuncts—most of our students HAVE NO IDEA WHAT AN ADJUNCT IS. It’s generally pretty hard to convince an outside group to support you when they really have no idea what you are. Before February 25th, the date of the NAWD, adjuncts need to be explaining to their students what an adjunct is, the conditions they work under, and how this circumstance hurts everyone.
In my next entry, I’ll be writing specifically what an adjunct is. Take what I write, and give it to your students. Alter it to reflect your reality if you want, but do it.
Second, groups need to contact local labor organizations and social justice groups. Why are fast food workers the only people engaging in the “FIGHT FOR FIFTEEN” when so many of our adjuncts make the equivalent or less? There are starving adjuncts, homeless adjuncts, sick and dying adjuncts, and dead adjuncts. Is not adjunctification a social issue?
Third, adjuncts need to start speaking up at local board of trustees meetings, and talking to/calling/emailing/texting local state and national politicians. Further, these speakers need to be more than local adjunct reps. When rank and file adjuncts show up in numbers to regularly push for a focus on these issues, they will get more attention.
For me, I will be involved with rallies in which NAWD will be termed a “day of action”, or a “walkout”.
Personally, I don’t give f**k what it’s called. I want to be heard and I want something done.
Call it whatever you wish. Just get up and do something.
A “Good” adjunct