National Adjunct “Walkout” Day 3.0 : The Spring of Our Discontent and the Need for a Year-round Adjunct/Contingent Campaign

I am writing this post to stress that now, as an anti-intellectual and anti-education political environment awaits us, the need for Spring Adjunct/Contingent Action is more important than ever.

Up until the events of February 25th, 2015, with the proposed, yet more modestly realized National Adjunct Walkout Day (there were protests, rallies, teach-ins, but few if any walkouts), Spring actions protesting adjunct labor conditions were few and far between, and usually only coming to protest class cuts and adjunct firings that were more often than not a foregone conclusion. (I took place in such actions as a Grad Student in the early 1990’s).

National Adjunct Walkout Day in part changed adjunct/contingent activism in the Spring in that it led to a smattering of actions nationwide, not as a reaction to an immediate Higher Ed misdecision by either Administrators or politicians, but rather, to draw attention to the growing creep of adjunctification, and with it, the weakening of the nation’s  Higher Ed system, and financial and emotional impoverishment of so-called “part-time” Higher Ed faculty who represent a commanding majority of Higher Ed. faculty in general.

By 2016, only a smattering of schools marked the event, although other institutions called for Spring adjunct actions in later months such as March and April.  This year, in 2017, it’s unclear who will participate in actions in conjunction with what now being called by some “Adjunct Action Day.”

In the San Diego Area, actions are currently being made to mark the event with rallies and other events on Wednesday, Feb. 22nd, commemorating the fourth Wednesday in February when the event first took place.

I . The Fading Past, but the Present Reality

For many hopeful of some mass workout stoppage which supposedly would show America how the US Higher Ed system would be brought to a crushing halt in a “Day without Adjuncts,”  2015’s National Adjunct Walkout Day was a failure, and those who did lesser actions were simply sellouts.

The event was in no way a failure, unless you were deluded enough to believe, after watching  Newsies or Norma Rae too many times, that mass worker actions can be achieved with Hollywood ease.  The event brought together both adjuncts who were and weren’t union members, and who were from competing organizations to speak with more or less a single message: that adjunctification and the exploitive practices associated with it must go.  In states such as California, where groups like CTA and CFT were able to rally around increasing categorical funding to increase full-time instruction, it meant tens of millions of dollars for more full-time positions (approx. 63 million dollars in California at alone).  In addition, it also marked the start of a two-year campaign to guarantee priority rehire rights for California Community College Adjuncts, resulting in the passage of bills AB1690 and SB1379.

The follow-up event,  Adjunct Action Day of 2016 in part launched the petition campaign to get an Extension of Prop 30 (a Provision passed in 2012 which now accounts for 15% of community college funding).  The rallies in the San Diego Community District helped lead the local union (AFT 1931) chapter to collecting more petition signatures than any other AFT chapter in the state.  Similar actions at Southwestern College in Chula Vista resulted in their collection of the 2nd highest total of signatures in the Southern California region for CTA chapters, unheard of when K-12 chapters usually outpace Community College chapters in signature gathering by multiples.

What’s more important is this—the Prop 30 Extension had struggled to get the sufficient numbers to be on the ballot. The actions of Adjunct Action Day, particularly with regard to the San Diego and Southwestern Community College Districts, helped put its numbers over the top, and thus saved 15% of the Community College budget, and 1000’s of adjunct jobs.

In spite of the national political climate, activists here are forging ahead, with things such paid maternity leave for adjuncts, increasing funding for office hours, and so on.

As for the national picture, the threats against DACA recipients, immigrants, Muslims, and the LGBT community, along with a clearly anti-union administration, will hurt adjuncts first and foremost among Higher Ed faculty.

We do not have the luxury to lull ourselves back into apathy;  we must act now as, with regard to the incoming Trump administration, it is the Spring of our discontent.

II.  Campus Equity Week is a Great Start, but It’s not Enough, and Needs to Be part of an Annual, not a Biennial Plan.

In 2000, the Coalition for Contingent Academic Labor or COCAL established a biennial event called “Campus Equity Week,” which set during the last week in October, was specifically to be week during which various actvities from rallies to teach-ins would take place to bring light to the plight of adjunct/contingent faculty. Over the years, various adjunct groups and faculty unions have held events in conjunction with the week.

Speifically, the San Diego and Southwetern Community College faculty unions placed a renewed focus on these events, doing them on an annual basis sarting from 2014.  Because the Coummunity Colleges have a two-year system, and because we work with student groups with high rates of turnover, it is more conducive for us to do these events on a annual basis to establish institutional knowledge of the week. While adjunct issues are still a main focus of the week, we have branched out the events of the week to address issues such as student poverty, school corporitization, and the expanding creep of labor contingency throughout the economic system.  By doing this, we get more invovlement with students, classified staff, administrators, and governing board members/trustees.

We use the issues raised during this week to set up campaigns for potential legislative or petition/letter-writing campaigns, which come to fruition in the Spring.

And understand, Spring action should be just that-action.  Too often I have heard about such events been scheduled and being reduced to Adjunct “Appreciation” Days.  These events are not about “appreciation,” (i.e. providing five-dollar pizzas from Cesar Cesar for an adjunct “dinner”). They’re about challenging adjunctification, and standing up for ourselves.

Without an institutionalized Spring event like an Adjunct Action Day or whatever you, my adjuncts, can come up with, launching many of these campaigns becomes more challenging, and this is why activities like an Adjunct Action Day are essential. Legislatures form legislation and make budgets in late Winter/early Spring.  To not have an event until later means you’re being reactive rather than proactive.

That said, because of the vast differences in calendars and issues from not only state-to-state, but system-to-system, and school-to-school, adjunct/contingents at their respective institutions need to schedule Spring actions when it’s best for them. The bigger point is you need to do something.

In closing, know this–we are facing real threats to our working conditions and occupational mission, and there are models out there for successful adjunct organizing.  It is not the time for depression, self-pity, or apathy, but action.

“Once unto the breach” my good adjuncts.

Geoff Johnson

A Good Adjunct

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National Adjunct Action Day is 2/24/2016 (For Us)

Good Adjuncts:

For those of you who follow this blog, you know that, at least in California, myself and John Hoskins, along with many others in San Diego, were heavily involved with events regarding National Adjunct Action Day (I also referred to it as the “whatever”) last year.  We put a lot of effort not only in the planning of events (there were six separate rallies in San Diego County alone).

Planning these events was not simply about having a few meetings, pulling out a card table, getting a microphone and making a poster.  It involved 1) looking at specific actionable items, 2) securing facilities and equipment (which will take several weeks of advance planning, 3) arranging for higher profile speakers, 4) Coordinating with students and outside labor/social justice groups, 5) putting together literature, 6) Publicizing the event, 7) Organizing adjuncts and students to work tables, 8) Presenting before college governing boards, and trust me, I could go on.

We started planning for this year’s events on 2/26/2015, which is approximately one day after National Adjunct Action Day, which was 2/25/2015.

In keeping with the idea that this was a “day of action,” I stated on this blog that we were looking for marking National Adjunct Day on Wednesday, Feb. 24th, 2015 which would be the fourth Wednesday in February, effectively commemorating National Adjunct Day. We of course imagined that there would be various activities leading up to the day, but weren’t looking at designating this as a week.

The reason for this is that both the CTA and CFT, the two major unions in California, already have “Campus Equity Week” which runs during the last week in October.  In fairness, while this used to be a biannual event, it is now in fact an annual event, and works well for us in terms of pressuring the state legislature, which controls our funding, and in addition, help us “rally the troops” for Election Day the following week.

After running a week of these events, as we did in San Diego, we can’t really run another full week of events because we end up appearing redundant and burning out some activists.

The idea of a “day of action” is to concentrate our efforts into a series of mass actions which will have the most impact, and perhaps draw media attention.

In the San Diego and Southwestern Community College Districts, the first day of instruction for the Spring Term is February 1st.  To effectively arrange facilities and organize our actions requires at least three weeks, and while some prior planning can be done, it’s extremely hard to organize during the break except at the basic planning stage because so many people “check out” during break.

Recently, a group I assume that is affiliated with Brandeis University  put out on social media that a National Adjunct Week of Action would be taking place from Feb. 15th-20th.   It would have been nice if they had actually talked with people like myself, who actually organize this stuff, because I would have them that we had prior plans, and that the timeline doesn’t work for us.  In addition, to what I stated before, Feb 12th -15th is actually a four-day holiday weekend in our districts, which is another problem in itself.

By the way, I spent a bit of time on the net looking for discussions of a National Adjunct Action Day for 2016 in November right after Campus Equity Week.  I saw nothing, so we assumed that we had to act, and we have.

To the people planning events on the 15th-20th, I’m glad you’re doing something and I sincerely wish you well, but I’m telling my good adjuncts in the San Diego area we’re looking at Wednesday Feb. 24th.

If we truly want to take the National Adjunct “Whatever” a unifying and effective event, then after this year’s activities, let’s have all the main groups coordinate and lest come up with a time window that works for everybody.  I am happy to be reached through the blog, or via my email, which is mixinminao@gmail.com.

However, I will say this, if you feel the need to speak to, and act out on adjunct issues, don’t let it being a specific day stop you—get out there and do something whenever.  The adjunct nation needs you!

Sincerely,

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

The 2016 State of the Adjunct Nation

Good Adjuncts,

Sorry I’ve been away so much; between the direct union activism of the last year and the deaths of both my mother and stepmother, I’ve only been able to put up a smattering of stuff.

I’m back, and I’m here to tell you the state of the adjunct nation is still unsound.

Granted, there have been positive changes afoot in the past year.

Outside of the limited smatterings of “Campus Equity Week” events, the call for, and on many campuses, the realization of a National Adjunct Day of Action marked the first significant effort at a mass labor action dedicated to the cause of Adjuncts.

Additionally, in many states, the improved economy meant increased tax revenues and in turn and uptick in wages and jobs for some adjuncts in some states. In California, a concerted effort to push the Governor and Legislature to address adjunct issues resulted in the designation of 62.5 million dollars towards the “conversion of part-time to full-time positions”. Also in California, an adjunct job security bill giving rehire rights to adjuncts in good standing received serious consideration before being killed in appropriations. In addition, some local districts crafted or increased funding for adjunct office hours and professional development.

Arguably, it was a move in the right direction, and yet…

Adjuncts still account for 75% of Community College and Higher Ed instructors, most have little or no job security, have to pay out of pocket for Obamacare, and make around 50% of what Full-time instructors make for teaching the same number of hours.

In fact, most adjuncts that did see pay increases usually received the same percentage increase as their full-time colleagues, which in fact did not bring the wages closer together, but saw them grow farther apart.

There has been no significant national movement on student loan debt forgiveness for adjuncts, and still significant numbers of adjuncts, in spite of their advanced degrees, years of teaching experience, solid evaluations, and professionalism, live on food stamps, receive government assistance, or are in fact homeless. To make ends meet, many adjuncts are teaching more classes than they should, traveling to multiple campuses in multiple districts, which adversely affects their teaching and makes it harder for students to access them.

According to the Labor Department’s December 2015 jobs report the average US wage was $24.57 an hour. For an adjunct, such as myself, who is only paid for their hours in class, with some token payment given office hours, I get paid for about one hour for every five that I actually work, which means my average of 73.00/hr (and I am paid at the top highest step I can reach in two relatively well-paying districts) is actually around $14.60/hr. I seriously doubt that any adjunct who truly puts the time into their classes that they should actually makes $24.57/hr for the work they actually do, even though they have a higher degree of educational attainment than 90% of the adult working population.

In fact, as I am presently between semesters, I am presently unemployed, as I am every Mid-December through late January or early February, because the Community Colleges I work at don’t want to give me, or any other adjunct for that matter, an actual contract guaranteeing my rehire rights, in spite of 10+ years of consecutively strong evaluations because then they would 1) have to provide me the same benefits as my full-time colleagues, and 2) the same proportional salary.

Meanwhile, the salaries of these institutions’ Chancellors, Presidents, and Vice Presidents are rising at higher rates, coupled with “longevity bonuses” that adjuncts will never see.

Yet, above and beyond all this, in California at least, there was hope that through a concerted effort by a number of different groups, from the main teachers unions in the state, to adjunct advocacy groups, that the governors’ budget this year would designate some specific monies to address adjunctification. What the budget does offer is a .46 COLA for Community Colleges in general along with 2% growth money tied to enrollment, and 200 million dollars for Career Technical education.

Any specific monies for increasing full-time hires, or paid adjunct office hours, or adjunct pay equity?

If you guessed zero, you’d be right.

Now for those of you out there that are inclined to think, “Hey, there’s COLA and growth money, so the inequities of the adjunct situation can still be addressed,” you need to understand what’s more likely to happen, as it has for the past several decades.

The COLA is relatively small, and so this is more than likely going to mean small salary increases across the board for adjuncts and full-timers alike, and unless you’re in a very progressive district with a very progressive full-time membership, the salary increase will be across, the board, meaning no closing of the adjunct/full-time pay equity gap. “Growth money” can be spent any number of ways by a district, and generally speaking, adjunct pay equity ranks low on the list.

To add to the fun, Governor Brown is not going to push for an extension of Proposition 30. There’s no word yet on whether he will oppose the effort of others to get this extension.

So, at least in California the State of the Adjunct Nation is unsound.

What can we do?

Well for one, we can’t take this lying down.

Each adjunct who actually gives a damn about addressing adjunctification needs to write his/her own letter—no more form letters. In addition, these letters need to speak to your personal situation as an adjunct and how being an adjunct and the whole aspect of adjunctification hurts you, your family, your students, and your community.

Brown’s budget also tends to stick it to the poor and is a bit weak on the social justice side, so it’s important that you work together with other student and progressive groups to make your local legislators and ultimately governor Brown know that moving California Forward means helping people out of poverty, not making California safe for 1%ers.

Sign and support voter initiatives calling for an extension of Prop 30, and let your local legislator know that your support for him or her is dependent upon their support for a Prop 30 extension.

And by the way, the National Adjunct Day of Action this year is Wednesday, February 24th. Start talking among your fellow adjuncts or teacher’s union about actions to take.

Or do nothing, because the crap sandwich you’re already eating tastes so good, and maybe in the future you can do without the bread.

Sincerely,

Geoff Johnson
A “Good” Adjunct

My Opening Speech at the Southwestern Rally

Let’s hear it for the students here today.

Let’s hear it for the full-time faculty here today.

Let’s hear it for the administrators here today.

Let’s hear it for the governing board members here today.

Let’s hear it for the staff here today.

Let’s hear it for the adjuncts here today.

You know, nothing in my wildest dreams told me 20, 10, or even five years ago that I would be here doing this today.

And I have mixed feelings about it.  Thinking back on my life, I never saw myself as what I have become-an adjunct instructor.  From my early 20’s, I knew I wanted to teach in higher ed., and I knew that above all things I wanted to be a teacher.

I still love being a teacher, and I love even teaching at multiple schools, but I don’t love being an adjunct.

For me at times, being an adjunct has meant waiting desperately each semester for a class assignment, having a car or a Trader Joe’s bag for an office, buying clothes from thrift shops and off Craig’s List, buying food for my kid through the WIC program, or sometimes even having to stand outside a Social Services Clinic cradling my sick child in my arms because I couldn’t afford insurance.

For me, being an adjunct at times means having to tear away from the time I can devote to a student, being bound to somewhere else, where students, often just as needy will also be denied access at times.

Being an adjunct also means being in an ever-growing class of transient instructors, who when the rare full-time position comes open, will join in the competition for the job like wild dogs fighting for table scraps, with perhaps one or two people being lucky enough to win the lottery of full-time job out of up to 230 applicants.

Being an adjunct means standing beside my full-time colleagues, unable to fully take part in tasks like program review, or fully understand department culture, or the big picture, because I am wed to my other campuses, and just as much as the car to which I drive to them.

And being an adjunct has meant making half as much as a full-time colleague of the same experience teaching a 17 hour load while my colleague is only required to do 15.

No, I don’t love being an adjunct, but I’m happy to be here today.

Five years ago, when in the midst of the great recession, and adjuncts were faced with the loss of classes coupled with a 5% pay cut after years of no raises, it wasn’t just that I despaired of being an adjunct, but of the idea that nothing would change.

What I mean by this is that I believed that when economic times got better, and if I survived the recession still employed as teacher, my pay and perhaps some benefits would get slightly better, but that the basic dynamic of living at marginal wages, with marginal job security, and a minimal chance of full-time employment would continue.

Now, maybe it’s not so much that I don’t believe that it could still be the case, but it’s that I’m sick and tired of not speaking out, that I’m happy, especially when I see the opportunity for California to truly begin addressing the “Adjunct Condition”.

This is the “adjunct condition”:

Nationwide, approximately 75 % of college instructors are adjuncts, with only 25% being full-timers.  On many campuses the majority of the curriculum is taught by adjuncts.  Generally these instructors are only paid for classroom hours, not for prepping, grading, researching, professional development, committee work, etc., which often represent anywhere from 60-80% of one’s job.

The “adjunct condition” is also students dealing with a loss of access to their teachers, who will teacher higher than full-time loads at multiple campuses.

Further, it is in some cases, the literal collapse or hollowing out of academic departments, with some departments, while having fully qualified adjuncts more than capable of teaching full-time classes, possessing no full-time faculty.

It is also the ever-revolving door of adjuncts being hired and fired from one place to work at another, which allows for little building of solid departmental goals or consensus.

The “adjunct condition” clearly hurts adjuncts, but it also hurts students.  Student completion rates are declining, and research has established that one of the main causes is the lack of access that students have with their instructors who, as national statistics show, are more often than not adjuncts.

Further, adjuncts are disproportionately used in lower level developing skills and first-year college classes, where often student access to teachers is most needed, yet least provided.

Moreover, the “adjunct condition” hurts the community, as declining completion rates mean fewer trained workers to take jobs that provide growth and advancement, and at the same time, increase a community’s tax base to pay for anything from better parks and schools, to simply better roads.  Second, those students who fail to complete the skills needed for good jobs will often come to need public assistance, or run a higher risk of incarceration, and clearly take more from the community than they are giving back.

If hearing all this makes you angry, then welcome to what an adjunct both feels and understands.

It is the nature of our society to look for villains. Why surely, there must be some clear cause or menace which has perpetrated this wrong.

The fact of the matter is that everyone bears some blame.

Taxpayers for years insisted on lower taxes and stronger law enforcement.  They got what they wanted, or well, sort of—less money for schools and more money for prisons.

Administrators, anxious to offer as many classes as they could, yet keep their budgets in check, increasingly hired adjuncts because they were a lot cheaper and more er. . . flexible.  i.e., easy to get rid of.

Legislators, even when handed electoral mandates like 75% of classes being taught by full-timers, simply chose to, and still choose to waive the law.

Full-timers, often pressed by the own work needs, including the increasing bureaucratic pressures of SLO’s, program review, curriculum development, and various committee work simply tried to keep up with their work.

Adjuncts, willingly accepted to teach classes aware of the poor job security and benefits, most often with the delusion that simply a years of hard work would alone lead them to full-time jobs which either never materialized, or were simply too competitive for all but a lucky few.

But you know what, today is not about anger, or at least not finger-pointing.  It’s about solutions.

In 2012, California passed Proposition 30, which brought needed funds to education, yet despite its passage, much of the debt that California had accrued during the recession had to be addressed, and so in 2013 and 2014, monies to simply save public education were spent.

It is now 2015, the money is there in the budget to affect real change, and change is long overdue.

Change for what you ask?

First let’s give students better access to their teachers.  If after all, schools are all about students, shouldn’t students be better able to access teachers outside the classroom?

It has been estimated that 30 million dollars, not additionally spent, but simply reallocated and specifically targeted to  paid adjunct office hours, could do part of that.

What might better help would be to make pay between adjuncts and full-timers more equal.  This, coupled with office hours will incline adjuncts to work at fewer campuses, and to have the time to not only better consult with students, but to do more thorough prepping, quicker grading turnarounds, and connect better with their campuses.

50 million dollars in adjunct pay parity, again not additionally spent, but simply categorically directed, would bring adjuncts.

Finally, what is most needed, is simply more full-timers.  Many if not most adjuncts, are in fact full-time teachers who cobble together multiple part-time jobs to live tenuously and teach transiently.  If California public really wants to have the best teachers, it should make it possible for the largest numbers of them to singularly devote their energies to one educational institution.

100 million dollars specifically towards the “conversion” (the governor’s office’s own words) of part-time to full-time teachers would change the present part-time to full-time ratio from 75% adjunct and 25% full-time, to 58% Part-time and 42% Full-time.

All told this represents a total of 180 million dollars, not additionally spent, but redirected to meet these needs.

It would be dishonest to say that the categorical allocation of 180 million dollars to address adjunctification would solve adjunctification in and of itself, but it would be a good first step.

There is much to suggest California’s legislature is on board with this, but not Governor Brown, who would rather give it in lump sums to various districts to leave administrators and governing boards to redirect to pretty much everything else but the above three items.

Ironically, Governor Brown is pushing for a high-speed rail project costing tens of billions of dollars, and recently pushed a water bond for billions of dollars.

This is because, as the Governor asserts, he is working towards a long lasting legacy.

What Governor Brown needs to realize is that one’s legacy resides not in physical infrastructure, but in human capital and potential.  One’s legacy resides in the hearts and minds of those that follow you.

The Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu said that the greatest leaders are those who let the people claim success as their own.  Think of how many future students would be able to speak of their own success if they had increased access to a teacher who is both financially stable and feels respected.

My good adjuncts, and you are good for the work and struggle you have endured, my fellow faculty, administrators, governing board members, and staff, who work with us in the common endeavor to abate ignorance and promote potential, and finally, yet first of all, dear students, we need to make the Governor see what’s right, and we need to do it now, for it will not just affect Governor Brown’s legacy, but the ones that we leave for those who follow.

NAWD Action Item #1: Adjuncts, Claim Your Spaces

Good Adjuncts,

If you haven’t taken the document “What is an Adjunct?”and given it to your students, please do so or download it.  To educate is to activate.

But that said, one document alone cannot fully educate or activate.  We need to educate and activate through multiple measures and activities.

And they can and should be thoughtful, insightful.

From now until Feb. 25th I will be posting activities every two or three days that I encourage all adjuncts to take up.  If you have ideas, send them to me in your comments section, and provided they don’t call for anything that involves a violation of the law, hurting oneself or others, or clearly result in a person’s getting fired, I’ll re-post it.

Whether you do these actions or not is up to you and your group. Do what is true to yourself.

Anyway, here’s first my first action item: Adjuncts, claim your spaces.

Adjuncts, too many of you know what it is like to have to do prep work or meet with students when you have limited or no adjunct space, but because you are a good adjunct, you make that time to do prep, or meet with a student.  Ideally, it’s in an adjunct office, but too often, it’s in a cafeteria, a student lounge, outside in the hall way, a courtyard, etc.

Show everyone just exactly where that space is.

First, get yourself a relatively large post-it, or a 3”x 5” notecard and put some scotch tape on one side. On either the non-adhesive side of the post-it, or on the non-tape side of the notecard, write in large and legible letters “ADJUNCT OFFICE SPACE”.  Attach the post-it or card to the nearest table top, door wall, or surface so that it can be clearly seen.

Now naturally, if you’re in a cafeteria or coffee shop, or any kind of high traffic space, it’s going to get removed.  In fact, you want to attach it so that it can be easily removed.  That’s OK, but let someone else remove it.

Later, when you’re back at the same place, put up another card and post-it.

From here on out, it’s simply rinse and repeat.

Over time, a larger audience of post-it and notecard readers and removers are going to understand your reality, and if they’re truly bothered by your message, maybe they will see that a specially designated space for adjuncts to do their jobs would be better than what’s happening now.

For those of you who might want to be a bit more proactive, if one your campus there is an empty office that is not being used, Put up a post-it or card with the question “FUTURE POSSIBLE ADJUNCT SPACE?” Like before, people will take down your card or post-it—simply put another one up.  The admin may in fact find another use for the office, but so what? Getting them to tell you what that office will ultimately be used for and why forces them to be more accountable to you.

Now off to your work  my good adjuncts.  Claim your spaces.

Geoff Johnson

A Good Adjunct

The National Adjunct Whatever

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.

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” adjunct