“The Gig is Up: Campus Equity Now!” A Campus Equity Week 2019 Call To Action

One of the main organizing tools for improving the plight of adjunct-contingent faculty has been Campus Equity Week or CEW.

Initially, CEW was a biannual adjunct-contingent organizing tool, where, during the last full week in October, adjunct-contingent faculty, faculty unions, and other supporting groups would, at their respective campuses, hold everything from rallies to seminars to guerilla theater to call attention to the unequal labor conditions faced by adjunct-contingent Higher Ed faculty.

Some campuses, such as my own, which are two-year colleges, have chosen to make Campus Equity Week an annual event because, with our ever-revolving student population and leadership, doing the event biannually would cause a lack of continuity and connection.

Some campuses and organizations, out of their own institutional necessities, will hold the event earlier or later by a week or so.

What’s important is that adjunct-contingent faculty get out and advocate, and encourage others, from students, to full-time faculty, community and labor leaders, and yes, even administrators, to push campus equity.

At my campuses (those of the San Diego, Grossmont-Cuyamaca, and Southwestern Community College Districts), I am calling for and organizing Campus Equity Week events for the week of Oct. 21st-25th around the theme “The Gig is Up: Campus Equity Now.”

Why?

Adjunct-Contingent (AC) Work is “Gig Work”:

AC teacher/workers, not unlike “gig” workers Uber and Lyft drivers, or Amazon delivery persons, are . . .

  1. Hired to work only on an as-needed basis, and paid only for their direct contact time. If there is not adequate demand as defined by management, there is no work. There are no or minimal guarantees for future work.
  2. The core or majority of employees that directly deliver a service but are treated more or less as independent contractors, generally meaning their loss of work does not make them eligible for unemployment benefits.
  3. Expected to bear the costs of additional training, certifications (talk to Nursing and Fire Science Educators about this), licensing, as well as to bear the costs for some equipment required to do the job.
  4. Often denied healthcare and retirement benefits, and in many cases, restricted from taking on additional work assignments if the additional hours worked qualifies them as full-time, or “true” employees.
  5. Not truly given a voice or allowed input on the basic management of the enterprise, which in the case of AC teacher/workers, is the institution of higher education.
  6. Made to suffer economically and emotionally due to the lack of job, housing, and even food security.
  7. Exploited in general in the name of managerial freedom, flexibility, and convenience.
  8. Looked down upon, or treated as lesser by full-time employees who see them as less qualified, unstable, and even unworthy of equal status and consideration.

Further . . .

  1. The expansion of gig jobs in academia has strained the capacity of AC teacher/workers to teach their best, meanwhile many students are bound by economic necessity to work gig jobs. The poor pay and working conditions of “gig” jobs has negatively impacted the success of students, making it additionally challenging for AC teacher/workers to help their students succeed academically.
  2. Many AC teacher/workers not only work academic “gig” jobs, but are themselves participants in other areas of the gig economy, such as Uber.
  3. “Gig” work, or contingent labor (‘freelancing”) is expected to become the majority of the workforce by 2027.
  4. Increasingly, para-professional staff are either being hired or replaced by workers whose status is decidedly “gig.”

What do We Mean When We’re Talking Equity? 

That all Work and Workers be Respected. We live in an inequitable society, and while it’s important for AC teacher/workers to call attention to their plight and its impact on students, the campus, and the community, we need to acknowledge that AC teacher/worker and socioeconomic injustice of other campus workers, our students, their parents, etc. The main goal of Campus Equity Week is to create awareness and encourage an impulse to action through the building of solidarity.

Teacher and campus workers ultimately deserve equal pay for equal work with respect to their responsibilities, work and professional experience, and qualifications, and in cases where a worker is working a percentage of a full-time position, he or she should be paid directly proportionate to the full-time wage for the duties they are assigned. (This should need no explanation, and such equity should extend to healthcare, retirement, and other benefits.

That the Other Aspects of Campus Inequity be at Least Acknowledged. Our faculty, students, and fellow campus workers are of all races, gender designations, religions, sexual orientations, and abilities. Many have faced Racism, Sexism, Religious and Gender Discrimination, along with Xenophobia and Ableism, which have also contributed to campus inequity.

That students be empowered to achieve educational success free of housing and food insecurity. While it is not unreasonable to expect students to work their way through school, it is unreasonable to place such a financial burden upon them that they effectively go hungry or homeless. In this regard, we call for: 1) Free or greatly reduced tuition, 2) the establishment of foodbanks, “closets,” and student low cost farmers’ markets supported by “fresh” programs, 3) community-supported low-cost student housing, 4) and campus-wide support and promotion of OER (online educational resources) as cheaper or free textbook alternatives.

That Adjunct-Contingent campus workers (AC Faculty, Staff) have access to these services when in need. A campus can only succeed in its mission when its faculty and support staff are secure.

That these Same Workers Be Allowed the Opportunity to Fully Participate in the Campus’s Shared Governance Structure, and be Compensated for It. These workers, who clearly represent the campus majority are vital to a campus’s operations and its students’ success. A more engaged and secure faculty means a more successful campus and surrounding community.

That So-Called “Gig” Workers be Truly Classified as Employees, thus Obligating Companies to Properly Compensate and Support Them. Security for many workers requires they be properly supported, and not forced to bear excessive costs for equipment and training, particularly when they are poorly compensated and given no or few benefits.

When possible, and in a timely and consistent manner, Contingent Faculty, Staff, and Workers at Large should Be Informed of Future Work Assignments or Schedules. Because many if not most contingent workers need to juggle multiple gigs, stable and timely scheduling will ensure their ability to both do their jobs and manage their lives as well as possible.

 

How Do We speak of Equity?

Rallies/Panel Discussions: Mass Actions which include not just AC teacher/ workers, but as much of the institution’s community as possible:

Curriculum: Lesson plans and assignments which focus on worker equity and encourage students to make true intellectual inquiry on the issues and grow academically. In many cases, teachers can be more effective in conveying awareness through classroom-based education than through rallies or panel discussions.

Street/Guerrilla Theater, Artistic Expression: This can involve everything from props and costumes, to game play activities, to spoken word and musical performance.
Petition/ Signature Gathering: Everything from petitions to local governments or board of trustees calling for policy changes to support for resolutions calling for the implementation should be considered. This can be done at a number of venues, or in conjunction with other Campus Equity Events.

I would like to humbly suggest that the embrace of such a theme and approach at your local would do well to further the cause of Campus Equity. It is my hope that you can take up it and make it your own.

In solidarity,

Geoff Johnson
AFT-ACC President, and
A Good Adjunct

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