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
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.
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
Three weeks out from what would be the first-ever strike in APSCUF history, it’s high time to make sure every member of this union understands two very simple concepts–
We win this struggle for the integrity of our system, fairness for our students and for us by being united; the more united we are, and the more visible that is, the sooner we win and the better the results.
The longer the picket line, the shorter the strike.
As our strike preparations pick up pace, we must work to express our solidarity as loudly and often as possible, and work together to solve logistical and technical problems that would be new to many of us if we have to strike.
In more concrete terms:
- Read your off-campus email.
- When your department representatives tell you that you’re expected to sign up for picket duty, do it. We’ll have plenty of information regarding logistics (parking, rules, and so on) ready for you before you need it.
- If you can’t picket for health or other reasons, let us know that as soon as possible so you can do something else to support the people on the lines.
- Get on the bus to Harrisburg on October 6 to let the Chancellor know, directly, that he’s doing it wrong and needs to make it right. [If you haven’t already, RSVP to Monika <firstname.lastname@example.org>]. There are still a few seats available, and don’t make it somebody else’s job to fill them.
- When an adjunct or untenured junior faculty member tells you they’re afraid to walk the line because they fear retaliation, tell them they’re safer being on the line (or serving in a support role) than at home because that lets us document the retaliation.
- When a faculty member says “Oh, this is all the same old stuff, so there’s no reason to take it seriously,” answer them. The negotiations team has been doing everything in its power to reach a settlement for more than 450 days, and they need OUR HELP to finish it.
- Share materials–the FAQs and factsheets–with students [Follow the rules, which you’ve gotten via email–contact me directly if you didn’t for some reason]. Answer their questions [Again, follow the rules!] as candidly as you can. When you talk to students, don’t soft-pedal the gravity of the situation because you’re worried about upsetting them. This situation sucks for everybody, but protecting them from the truth helps nobody.
This list could (and will) get longer as we continue to approach the deadline and PASSHE continues not to bargain seriously. You’ll learn more about how to prepare, about what happens during an actual strike, and other kinds of practical questions we know many of you have (because we’ve been answering them for months–yes, keep asking them!).
But from now until there’s a ratified contract, acting in concert, doing everything we can to be united and together, is our number one responsibility to our union. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask questions or offer ideas. It does mean that sometimes we might not like the answers, and that’s not a reason to bail out.
One last point: for months, many of us have said the best way to prevent a strike is to be fully prepared for one. Now, I want to make two different claims: (1) the best way to win a fair contract for our students and for us to be ready to strike if we need to, and to do it right if that’s what it takes; and (2) if all the preparations turn out to be enough pressure that we don’t actually have to strike, we’ll have the rest of our working lives together to look back at this moment and laugh at how close we came.
Those of you who know me won’t be surprised that I’m furious this morning about the turn of events in our negotiations with PASSHE. My mood isn’t improved by the press coverage (for example, see this story on PennLive from last night, which makes a couple of very misleading claims and gives a largely open microphone to PASSHE’s spokesperson).
So yeah, I’m mad. Like many of us, I hoped the negotiating sessions over the last week represented a breakthrough–at least to the extent that they were happening, finally–and to hear that PASSHE tanked them after days of hard work doesn’t sit well (for a more thorough articulation of what broke down, read Kevin Mahoney’s piece on today’s Raging Chicken Press) .
However, anger by itself accomplishes very little. So it’s important for us as a campus and as a union to try to focus our reaction a little differently. Does PASSHE deserve our ire? Sure. But what they deserve even more is to face the steady, clear resolve of a faculty who can say two things with confidence:
- We know our students, our campuses, our colleagues, and quite frankly the national higher education landscape better than management does, which means that their claims to be speaking on anyone’s behalf but their own are largely empty.
- Nobody deserves to get yanked around by their management the way we are right now, and if we have to strike to make that point loudly enough for them to hear it, then that’s what we have to do.
We’ve been clear since the beginning of the negotiating cycle that we don’t want to strike. Yesterday, I was ready to do it if our leadership calls it; today I’m more so. Whatever PASSHE is playing at, whether they’re really pushing us to strike or just being intransigent, we all need to hear this much: be ready, and if you weren’t sure we really meant it, WE REALLY MEAN IT!
A quick (well, you know) musing from your friendly APSCUF-WCU Mobilization Co-Chair on the way into the holiday weekend before the Strike Authorization Vote–
Yesterday, I had a conversation with somebody in the hallway about getting people to sign up for work we need done over the next months: staffing the voting tables, making themselves available for rallies and picketing, making phone calls and writing letters, and so on. We commiserated for a minute about the herding cats problem that lots of us academics use to describe ourselves.
But I’ve thought about this a lot over the years and think it’s somewhat more complicated than that. I haven’t done formal data collection on this, but anecdotally I know that many of us are drawn to the profession, along with our interest in our disciplines, because faculty work offers more autonomy than almost any other job I can think of. While we rightly get mad at the “They only work 17 hours” trope, it is true that many of the hours we work each week are flex time. We have more decision-making authority over our teaching and research (and even our service) than most people have over their job responsibilities. Yes, we’ve earned it and in many cases paid a dear price for it (years of grad school, student loans, all the financial/emotional stresses that come with those, and more). Nonetheless, it’s one of the features that distinguishes our jobs from most others.
Which is why at moments where unity and solidarity are at a premium, like right now in our contract negotiations/strike preparations, it’s that much more important for each of us to remember that we chose to become faculty, and we chose to become union members, and we therefore need to choose to commit to the solidarity it will take to stand strong for our students, our colleagues, our campuses, and our system against system management that claims to have a monopoly on all those in spite of their continued failure to fight for us and even alongside us instead of against us as they all too often do.
Well, if the people who run our state system were trying to get the new semester off on a sour note, they sure found a way to do it.
In a letter addressed to PASSHE students, Chancellor Frank Brogan makes a claim that I feel compelled to respond to before the semester starts–my goal here is to help APSCUF faculty think about how to respond when students accuse us, faculty, of not looking out for their interests should we have to strike.
Chancellor Brogan says:
We can only hope that APSCUF recognizes the potentially devastating impact that a strike would have on our students.
Yes, Chancellor Brogan, we understand. We wish you understood as well as we do. We’re the ones who work with the students and faculty across the system every single day. We–the students and the faculty–are the people who do the learning and the teaching that give the system, and hence your office and your staff, any reason to exist. We know our impact because we see it every day: in the classes we teach, in the clubs and services we oversee, in the advisees we mentor; in the athletes we coach. Our impact has been steadily and widely positive and productive through often challenging circumstances. We want to work in an environment that allows us to continue having our positive impacts for years to come
The implications of a strike could, in fact, be devastating. That’s why nobody on the APSCUF side wants to do it. On the other hand, if it takes a strike to make PASSHE understand that we’re not going to sacrifice the integrity of our system or our campuses, that’s a positive implication.
In other words, a strike doesn’t have to happen; all it will take to prevent one is for PASSHE to get to work bargaining in good faith like they should have been doing for more than 400 days now. And if a strike does happen, it will be because APSCUF believes that’s the only way to convince PASSHE to bargain in good faith. We know better than anybody in some office in Harrisburg what will happen to students if we strike. The people who are gambling blindly with our students’ learning conditions aren’t us.