Spent much of today reading and writing about strike experiences with APSCUF siblings on Facebook. This piece was in an email, and it’s said so beautifully that I wanted to share it with everybody who reads the blog. What the writer doesn’t tell you is how willingly she gave hour after hour after hour doing any and everything that I or anyone else asked, and knowing what needed doing even when nobody else did.
With permission from Tina Chiarelli-Helminiak:
Over the past week, I had the great opportunity to witness amazing union solidarity, in addition to superb community organizing. I am in awe of the support from our students, their parents, and so many others.
I also had a unique vantage point as I may be the only person who visited every picket site on the West Chester campus as well as the Philadelphia campus location. Each picket site had its own personality! From the street party in Philly to the athletic training on South campus, to the few but strong on Carter Drive, to the festival in front of Philips to the jokesters on New St (how many PhDs does it take to set up an EZ-Up?!?). I am so very fortunate to have served as witness to these scenes.
The preparations leading up to and the three days on strike provided us, as educators, with the opportunity to model for our students what it looks like to advocate for social and economic justice and workers’ rights. We put into practice some of the very skills we attempt to teach in the classroom. We also modeled the importance for advocating for ourselves. Yet, this opportunity was more than anything that I, personally, could have taught my students inside the classroom.
During our 3 days on strike I missed classes, office hours, meetings, and a whole lot of sleep. But during our 67 hours on strike I gained so much more! I have never been more proud to be an alumnus and faculty member of the PA state system. I am even more committed to my union.
So, in sum, thank you for being a part of this process. I am forever your colleagues, your fan, your friend, and your union sister.
🙂 Tina Chiarelli-Helminiak, MSW, PhD
Graduate Social Work Department
Proud product of public education from HeadStart to PhD
Given the fact that I’ve been urging faculty and students to contact you for about two months, it’s ironic that I’m only now writing to you myself. However, as I was prepping a session for my “Literature of the Enlightenment” class on the Declaration of Independence, I was struck by its characterization of oppressed people trying to free themselves from an unjust government. Even more, I was struck by how it was a last effort by a group of people to get an authority figure, George III of England, to come to a fair agreement with them.
Though I don’t want to push the analogy between the colonists and our current contract negotiations too far (analogies are always tricky), I think parts of it are apt here. The colonists considered themselves on the same team as King George: they thought of themselves as British. We hope that the PASSHE Chancellor and the PASSHE faculty have the same goals: success for our students. Colonists had tried to work out their differences with the government in Britain, such as asking for representation in Parliament and resenting oppressive measures from afar, but each attempt was met with inaction and disdain: “Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated Injury.” Further, King George had stalled the colonists, “for the sole Purpose of fatiguing them into Compliance with his Measures.” Sadly, faculty feel similarly.
They began to set deadlines, which the King ignored. Your state faculty find themselves in the same position: our contract provides deadlines, and you have ignored them, as faculty have been ready to negotiate at least a year before our contract expired. Faculty tell students they must meet deadlines all the time. Our institutions kick students out if they miss certain or too many deadlines. So the other irony of our current situation is that you are insisting that students do something that you have not done yourself. Students are suffering because those who should know better are not meeting basic professional responsibilities.
Tomorrow, a huge deadline approaches. You have the fate of our state system “nation” in your hands. Will you negotiate fairly? Will you provide a reasonable, fair contract that does not take away governance from faculty and treats them all equally, with dignity and respect?
The faculty’s declaration is clear: we are standing up for our students, our colleagues, and the future of the state system of higher education. We hope that you will do the same.
Like many of you, I saw late yesterday (or early this morning, depending on how avidly you follow your email/social media) the news that APSCUF and the State System have agreed to a news embargo. I want very much to find that a hopeful sign.
On the other hand, the reality is that in terms of the likelihood of a Wednesday strike declaration, we don’t know anything we didn’t know yesterday, or the day before that, or the day before that.
We can hope that the sides are making progress quickly enough to avoid a strike declaration, but we cannot let that hope make us lose our resolve to be on the lines Wednesday morning if that’s what our leadership decides.
Stay focused, y’all, and trust the process.
“If we strike, I will be on the line partly for my own interests, of course, but mostly on behalf of my colleagues. My dual-income household means that I am in the incredibly fortunate position of being able to weather a strike financially, and that makes it even more important for me to take part in the strike. I have a buffer. I can be visible and loud and persistent and not worry about how we’ll pay our bills. It’s my OBLIGATION to myself, my colleagues both at WCU and across PASSHE, and my students to show up on the picket line and fight for fairness and respect. I know how worried my colleagues are — especially junior colleagues and adjuncts, but associate & full professors too. I know how much some of them will struggle without a paycheck. I am prouder than I can say that they were among the first to sign up to picket, that local folks are scheduling parking shifts in their driveways, and that we are taking note of thinly scheduled shifts and offering to cover those times. What I’m getting at is this: can we somehow highlight positive testimonies about why we’re supporting the strike? Do you think that it would help? I’d be glad to sign my name to my words, but we could offer an anonymous option too… I’m trying to listen to my better angels here rather than encourage exposure of faculty who are threatening their peers if they strike. I still can’t wrap my head around that. If it’s useful, you may share this email. I don’t know if my idea has merit, but I’d like to think that we could counter these rumors — and perhaps convert some undecided colleagues — with a show of unity and positivity. Thank you for all of your work!
Yes, Gabrielle, what a great idea! Faculty, please send your positive testimonies about the strike to email@example.com and I will post them on the blog as they come in. Please indicate whether you want your name printed or if you wish to remain anonymous.
In my inbox this morning–
Congratulations to CTU for reaching a tentative agreement with a School Board that has been under the control of a career politician whose ideas about education are dangerously misinformed (foreshadowing, anyone?).
As we head into our last week of preparations for the looming strike set to begin October 19, the CTU settlement offers two important lessons for us.
- We’re fighting for quality, not for our personal enrichment or greed. The 2012 CTU strike provided the model by which teacher unions at all levels win strikes–by being clear about what’s at stake. Yes, our compensation matters to us, and we have to fight back against the “greedy teacher” trope, but the heart of the matter is our ability to work as professionals without having to fight off the wrong-headed (if not more insidiously dishonest) proposals of educational deformers who don’t have a clue what they’re talking about–and who don’t have to live the consequences of their bad thinking. In Chicago, those proposals were for increased class sizes, reduced funding for arts and even physical education, and a wide array of union-busting moves designed to de-professionalize teaching including evaluation regimens that are so meaningless it’s hard even to explain why the math is wrong and tons of similar examples.
- It’s possible to face down politicos whose agenda is anti-public-education if we stand strong against them. In Chicago, it’s Rahm Emanuel, a quasi-liberal education deform advocate who was elected Mayor in 2011. His (anti-) education agenda is well-documented. Obviously, in PA it’s Chancellor Brogan, who (and this may be the nicest thing I ever say about him) at least has a couple of years of classroom (sure, it’s fifth-grade, not college, but still) experience on his resumé. But his ideas about how to “reform” the state system are equally reckless and dangerous, and like Emanuel, he has no real stake in the outcome except how the narrative serves his political ambitions.
And that’s why, as we approach October 19, we must remember these two simple points.
We know more about what our students and our system needs to succeed than somebody who has never done our job or even thought much about it.
We’re a lot more committed to the success and well-being of our students and our system than the person who’s letting tax payers give him $345,000/year to do nothing that discernibly helps anyone in the system learn or teach more successfully.
Just being right isn’t enough. Neither is being convinced that we’re right. We have to stand together, on picket lines if that’s what it comes to–and send the message loud and clear that we’re not greedy or lazy, and we’re not “teaching machines”; we’re hard-working people who know what we’re doing, and what the Chancellor wants is wrong for everyone who can’t jump ship whenever he feels like it. We have to push back against a politician who knows almost nothing about higher education so he doesn’t get to sell out 100,000 students, 6000 faculty/coaches, and thousands more staff and workers, for his personal political ambitions.
Thanks to friend, colleague, and union brother Michael Hill (Department of English, Henry Ford Community College; Negotiations Team member, HFCC-FT, AFT Local 1650) for this letter to our Chancellor.
I am writing to encourage you to instruct your team to negotiate in good faith with your faculty. As one of the negotiators for our faculty union, I can tell you that faculty enter into negotiations earnestly with the intention of getting back to their real jobs of teaching and researching. Negotiations are necessary so that faculty can protect their institutions, protect student learning and protect the integrity of the professoriate, but they are a drain on the real work we do. It is especially disheartening when negotiations turn negative and when the negotiating team for administration becomes intransigent and flippant about the future of the higher education enterprise.
Please know that faculty and students across the nation are watching your negotiations with concern and we hope to be able to continue to respect the fine tradition of higher education in your state. Those of us who care about higher education implore you to negotiate and work out a fair settlement before your office does serious damage to your schools.
Michael D. Hill
Two weeks ago today, APSCUF President Ken Mash announced publicly that without a contract settlement, our union will go on strike October 19. During the press conference, President Mash made the point that among other misrepresentations going from the Chancellor’s Office to students and the press was a claim that we had rejected negotiating dates.
I wasn’t happy about the distortion and dashed off a letter to the Chancellor, to which I never received a response–not even the canned form letter other people received for writing their own letters to him. So I thought I’d post it here, to see if maybe that encourages some consideration his part. Feel free to share around if you like it, and to ignore it if you don’t.
I write as a West Chester faculty member and, as you’d find out soon enough if you care, a member of APSCUF’s Mobilization Committee that’s working to prepare our faculty in the event that a strike becomes necessary.
Although I’m doing everything I can to make sure our faculty are prepared to strike, I still very much hope a strike doesn’t come to pass. When we say, as President Mash did this morning during his press conference, that it’s a last resort, we really mean it. Unfortunately, what we hear coming from your office is making it difficult for even the most optimistic of us to remain that way. In particular, although this sounds like a trivial detail, it was deeply disheartening to learn this morning that our team had proposed five dates for negotiations sessions to your team, and had gotten no response, while your team proposed dates they already knew were unavailable. That problem became even worse when somebody told the press our side “was refusing to negotiate” as a result. That’s incredibly disrespectful.
The substance of the contract issues aside, I hope you can understand why news like that is very unsettling. Our negotiations team–our whole union–is committed to settling a fair contract, and when your team shows what seems like so little regard for even the simplest details, it’s hard for us to believe that your people are as engaged in the process as we need them to be.
Even though roughly a year and a half of meetings and discussions haven’t resolved the contract issues, most of us believe three and a half weeks of genuine negotiating could end this. But it can’t while your team is proposing sessions on days they already know can’t happen, refusing to respond to requests for others, and blaming us for being unwilling.
As a whole, the faculty are deeply committed to the students and the institutions that make up the system. We’ve heard you acknowledge this more than once over the years, for which we’re grateful. Now we just need the small group of people you send into the negotiating sessions to act like they understand it too.
Seth Kahn, PhD
Department of English
West Chester University