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.
[This might be my shortest blog post ever.]
When people ask you why we rejected the state system’s generous [sic] 12% payraise offer, the answer is:
No, we didn’t “reject the salary offer.” We rejected a whole slew of terrible proposals: attacks on adjunct faculty and academic quality, and massive unnecessary givebacks on healthcare.
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!
In the wake of Monday’s announcement that the membership overwhelmingly voted in favor of strike authorization, which is precisely what we needed to do in order to signal PASSHE that our patience is pretty well taxed, this seems like a good time to follow that good news up with a nudge that I REALLY wish we didn’t have to keep doing.
While our CBA is one of the two best (if not the best) in the country in terms of its provisions for adjunct/non-tenure-track faculty, the general membership (by which I mean US, the rank and file) is lagging behind in terms of coming to grips with the fact that our adjunct faculty are just as much a part of the bargaining unit, and thus the union, as any tenured/tenure-track (T/TT) faculty member is.
Two things are prompting me to say this:
- During our Strike Authorization voting last week, I heard at least half a dozen times, either first-hand or via faculty who were staffing the voting stations, that T/TT faculty were “surprised” adjunct faculty were allowed to vote. And in one case, when I responded, “Of course they are, if they’re full members. Why wouldn’t they be,” the person said, “They can be full members?!?” I didn’t actually cry, but I almost did.
- A friend who is an adjunct faculty member and long-time APSCUF member (I’m not going to identify them any more specifically than that unless they volunteer it themselves) said semi-publicly this morning that they really wish APSCUF members would stop “Talk[ing] about us like we’re the help and don’t have ears.”
Those of us who are T/TT faculty do this all too often. Not every one of us every time, but as a collective, we all too often simply ignore our own members, or take them for granted. And we do it oftentimes for the exact reasons that we need to be most vocally supportive of our adjunct sisters and brothers–because their working conditions are worse than ours, their schedules often keep them from interacting socially and professionally with us, the list goes on and on.
So, again (and again, and again): our adjunct faculty are brothers and sisters, and we’re doing it wrong (very profoundly wrong) every single time we forget that.
By now, many of you have read of Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus lock-out, which may well turn out to be one of the most anti-union attacks on a faculty in modern times. The ploy at LIU is, in effect, to hire scabs and empower non-faculty to administer courses based on syllabi collected by the administration via Blackboard.
The cynical gambit at LIU will ultimately fail because it takes much more than “content”, a learning management system and a syllabus to foster excellence. We know from for-profit, distance education institutions that courses proctored (not taught) by poorly paid and unsupported instructors have terrible completion rates. And if the lock-out proceeds for a significant length of time, LIU could damage their “brand” (i.e., reputation) and become a corporate degree mill to be shunned and ridiculed.
I very much doubt that the Chancellor would have much to gain by using this rare (but increasingly prevalent) tactic against APSCUF in our current situation. A management lock-out would prove that the Chancellor cares more about saving money than delivering a high-quality education, and would warn potential new faculty hires to look elsewhere if they want a secure career that keeps pace with the cost of living.
If you are not sure whether playing defense against a lock-out is better than preparing for a strike, consider the power of taking a strike authorization vote.
- A vote for strike authorization demonstrates that the faculty stands solidly behind its bargaining team. It is a vote for fair raises, affordable healthcare, and continued shared governance.
- A vote for strike authorization sends a resounding message that we stand for the quality of our universities, and that hiring and retaining the best faculty is the best way to ensure the excellence of our institutions.
- A vote for strike authorization publicly declares the faculty’s solidarity and resolve to the Chancellor, the BOG, the Legislature, the Governor, our students and their families.
- A vote for strike authorization demonstrates your strong support for the collective bargaining process on our campus. Not very long ago, the Weisenstein administration paid an outside consultant via the WCU Foundation to lobby faculty strenuously to support secession from PASSHE. Thankfully, they failed. This move could have turned us into an institution much more like Long Island University, and without the strong protections of APSCUF.
This Labor Day, please take a moment to reflect that every page of your CBA was written thanks to 30+ years of your colleagues regularly stepping up and arguing for your rights and for the betterment of the bargaining unit. Then join with me on September 7 – 9 by voting YES for Strike Authorization.
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.
We hope you’ve seen the update on this week’s negotiations session. It sounds like maybe the work that should have happened a long while ago is maybe starting to happen now.
For those of you who are new to this process, here’s a bit of context. It’s typical for negotiations to start slowly, and for us to start making noise about that. Very often, the first visible response to our rumbling is what you’re seeing here–little bits of progress on issues that aren’t too contentious so that management can tell themselves (and us) that they’re trying really hard. So take the news as good in the sense that something is happening, but remember that it’s happening because we’re pushing and we need to keep doing it.