What a Difference a UNION Makes – Pay at UST versus Pay at MnSCU

by Lucy Saliger, Adjunct Faculty Member – English

This semester I am teaching three courses at UST and one at a MnSCU community college. As I begin to understand the way the union contract works at MnSCU, I realize what a HUGE difference there is between what adjunct faculty are paid and the benefits they receive as MnSCU faculty and what they get at UST with no union. The administration seems to be pretending that what adjuncts at UST most wanted was to have people applaud for them in ceremonies and to get to go to a lot of meetings to come up with suggestions to then submit to our rulers who can decide unilaterally whether to grant us what we ask for and suggest – or not. Some may appreciate that and some may not care so much about it, but what so many adjuncts have expressed is a need for better pay, benefits, and job security. In the mean time, as we wait and wait in the passive roles the senior administration most loves to see us in… here’s a little of what it would mean if I were instead teaching these three UST classes at a state community college.

I was a nontraditional student who went back to school when I finally could (which accounts for both my idealism about education and my critique of and downright outrage at the hypocrisy of academic institutions exploiting adjunct faculty or any workers while they teach equality, care for the common good, education as a means to better one’s life, and other laudable premises). So… I fall under the scale that as of 2013 would give me a salary of $17,600 for the three classes (12 credits). I am still working on the equivalent of one year of full time teaching experience. (NOTE: this would be slightly higher because a union raise went into effect this year, but i don’t have the booklet with that newest pay rate.) At UST with our new $200 per class raise, I am getting $12,600 for the three. Okay… so I get… ahem… five thousand dollars less to teach these courses this semester at UST instead of at a state community college. But it doesn’t stop there. In MnSCU, once you are teaching over 5 credits per semester, you accumulate health insurance, sick leave, retirement benefits, and tuition remission for yourself or your partner or kids.
There is more. Every time someone accumulates 30 more credits of teaching experience, they move to the next step. It looks like my friend, with the 46 courses she has taught at UST, would be in column IV at a step 7, which means the full time rate would be $54,500 per year for teaching 30 credits that academic year. So to figure out her prorated amount for the three classes she is teaching  we would take 12 credits divided by 30 credits which equals 40 percent. That comes out to $21,800 for the three courses PLUS money put into a pension, sick leave accumulation, tuition remission, health insurance…. Too bad for my friend’s financial well-being that she is teaching those courses at an institution where she instead is paid $12.900 for that work this semester. She is being paid $8900 less for the same work by an institution that claims it pays “competitive rates.” What does that phrase mean? What is the basis of comparison?
I keep wondering why UST’s senior administration and Board feel entitled to our labor at these rates. Why do they feel entitled to demand that someone at my friend’s level of experience essentially donate the $19,800 more per year she would make doing the same work under MnSCU plus forfeit any pension, sick leave, health insurance, or tuition remission she would have under that system, along with union representation if she were terminated unfairly. She forfeits, also, the right to participate in a democratic entity (a union) with leverage, an entity that creates some real balance of power. But of course, they feel entitled to do this because they ARE entitled to do it unless we change it.
To top it all off, my students pay $700 to take my 4 credit course at the community college and more than $4000 to take my 4 credit course at UST.
For folks who continue to act as if faculty unionization is all a wild, untried experiment… it’s time to stop this provinicialism and contextualize our situation.
When the dean promised us in his July 4 letter to adjuncts that he had seen the president’s plan but was forbidden by labor law from communicating to us what it was – but that it was “exactly” what he had imagined – I – even I – actually thought that maybe, just maybe, it was a plan with some substance – a plan that would move us at least a little closer to bridging this huge disparity of pay in our own region. I thought “exactly” meant that something EXACT was in place – not these vague gestures toward ideas that might be generated by task forces to create councils to suggest things…. I thought the administration was supposed to be so nimble without the need to gradually work out a union contract. But we find out instead that they are plodding along, delaying giving us any additional pay or benefits right now, and so if – IF – we get any real improvements by next fall, that is no faster than we would have seen change had we worked out our first contract this year to take effect next fall.
Imagine what our situation would be had adjuncts won a union ten or twenty years ago and our union contract had us on par with MnSCU faculty. How long will we adjuncts choose to donate many thousands of dollars to UST and our future well-being as we risk getting injured or sick and we look to a retirement in poverty if we rely on our years laboring at UST?  Are the senior administration donating many thousands of dollars, too?  Are they forfeiting pensions? Or is this supposed to fall only on our heads for some reason? “Service” at low pay in precarious conditions for some… Lavish salaries and benefits for others!!
But moral outrage and logical pleas with the administration have not gotten adjuncts anywhere and remain unlikely to get us anywhere where we need to be. What will really make the difference is winning a union. How long will we wait? A year? Two?  And what are we waiting FOR anyway?
(P.S. My apologies for the paragraphs running together; sometimes the site won’t format right. We’re a bare-bones, grassroots organization here (UST Adjuncts Union), so we don’t have the funding for web designers. We write our own posts and try to navigate the technology on our own. My apologies, also, for not writing for so long.  But to those of you who want to win a union – don’t worry… We have no intention of fading away. And to those of you who want a docile labor force of adjuncts who don’t make demands for real democracy and decent wages – don’t get too comfortable… We’re not going away. We know what a difference a UNION makes.)

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A Surprise in the Mail

by Jason Skirry, Adjunct Professor, Business Ethics / Philosophy

Right before the election I received a small pamphlet in the mail called “Catholic Administrators and Labor Unions” by William Droel and Ed Marciniak. It was sent to me unsolicited by the National Center for the Laity. Given the intensity of the election, I glanced briefly through it and put it on my “to read” pile. Now I’ve finally had time to read it and found it to be a very thoughtful account of the moral responsibilities of Catholic administrators to their employees. I was struck by how our arguments for unionization align with this account. Let’s examine a few passages.

 The official 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church says that definitions of justice and a just wage are not dependent on even the best intentions of an employee or an employer. Morality in regard to those concepts is objectively informed. Exploitation cannot put on the coat of acceptable arrangement simply because a worker consents to the situation (15).

I was struck by this passage because a typical argument against unionization is this: “If you don’t like working as an adjunct at UST, then you should quit and find something else.” This objection misses the point. Fairness is not contingent upon whether a person accepts an adjunct position or not. It is the job itself that is objectively unfair, no matter who occupies the position. So quitting does not solve the problem or somehow make adjunct positions fair or just. This is similar to the reasoning behind why we cannot voluntarily enslave ourselves to another because we know that the practice of slavery is objectively wrong. So, it has nothing to do with the teachers who occupy these positions, but with the institution of ‘adjuncting’ itself.

The institution of adjuncting is discussed in detail in a recent article of Bioscience titled “The End of the Academy?”. The evidence provided is quite shocking. Here’s an example:

From 1976 to 2011, according to data compiled annually by the American Association of University Professors, part-time faculty grew by 286 percent nationally, full-time non-tenure-track faculty grew by 259 percent, whereas tenured and tenure-track faculty, combined, grew by just 23 percent. An even bigger boost went to “nonfaculty professionals”—purchasing agents, human resource professionals, loan counselors, lawyers, and so on—whose ranks grew by 369 percent. A February 2014 report by the Delta Cost Project, which researches the cost of higher education, showed that “As the ranks of managerial and professional administrative workers grew, the number of faculty and staff per ­administrator” continued to decline. The average number of faculty and staff per administrator declined by roughly 40 percent in most types of 4-year colleges and universities between 1990 and 2012, and now averages 2.5 or fewer faculty and staff per administrator. (http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/64/8/647.full ).

Given that 76% (3 out of every 4) positions in higher education are contingent or flexible positions, most of which are adjunct positions, there appears to be a serious “justice” problem in higher education (AAUP: http://www.aaup.org/report/heres-news-annual-report-economic-status-profession-2012-13). One could argue that the institution of adjuncting is not the result of economic forces akin to an earthquake that is destroying tenure-track jobs, but comes from the systematic dismantling of tenure over the past 40 years by a new administrative class that has taken over American universities. Arguably, this is part of their strategy to “corporatize” the university.  Adjuncts are the unwitting agents of their own demise. That is, administrators are reducing tenured jobs and replacing them with adjunct jobs. And adjuncts, who want tenure track jobs, can’t find them because they are being used to reduce tenure track jobs. You can cut the irony with a Civil War era bone saw. If you don’t believe me, then just type in “adjunct professor” in Google and a mountain of evidence will be at your fingertips. Or just check out our Resources pages. But I digress.

Here’s another passage that quotes Msgr. John A. Ryan:

 Effective labor unions are by far the most powerful force in society for the protection of the laborer’s rights and the improvement of his or her condition. No amount of employer benevolence, no diffusion of a sympathetic attitude on part of the public, no increase of beneficial legislation, can adequately supply for the lack of organization among workers themselves [my emphasis] (24).

This supports our arguments in favor of a justice model rather than a charity model. Under the latter case we depend on the generosity of the administration and in the former we take responsibility for our work conditions. By taking responsibility we uphold the “Catholic ideal of responsible freedom” (24). This idea of responsible freedom is also at the heart of the US Constitution. A union is the best mechanism we have to create fair working conditions (http://www.aaup.org/sites/default/files/Unions-Shared-Gov.pdf).

Here’s another passage that speaks to our concerns that the UST administration should have been neutral during the election and not hired anti-union lawyers. They should have respected our dignity as full autonomous persons to decide on our own whether we wanted a union or not.

 An administrator’s initial impulse might be to call an anti-union consulting firm…these consultants rarely deal directly with the workers. They place expectations on supervisors, creating a wedge of resentment. Whatever the brochures, videotapes or sloganeering they bring to the institution, divide-and-conquer is always the basic strategy of a union-busting lawyer. There is no healthy recovery, even if the union sentiment is squashed (37).

A healthy recovery in our case might be difficult because the administration did hire a union-busting law firm to implement a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy’ in their determination to defeat adjunct collective bargaining.  Moreover, their communications to adjuncts since the election suggest that this strategy is still in place. For example, the idea that some of us who voted for the union might try to undermine the administration’s efforts to improve conditions for adjuncts couldn’t be further from the truth. We are all in this together and any improvements for adjuncts are welcome. The administration must welcome ALL adjuncts to the administration’s adjunct task force and council. This will aid in our healthy recovery. I still believe that the administration should respect our “full freedom” as human beings to exercise our right to collectively bargain and we are still organizing to make this happen. Our efforts are not inherently incompatible with the administration’s effort to correct our unfair working conditions. A union will enhance the process and afford us the opportunity to exercise our “full freedom”. The administration’s charity model leaves no substantive room for this.

I wish the administration had read and applied the Catholic Social Teaching clearly explained in the pamphlet. Nonetheless, we will continue to work towards a university that embodies that kind of freedom and justice for those who work at St. Thomas.

 

 

 

 

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Resources to Check Out – August 2014 – Week 1

Because we’re continually adding to and better organizing our Resources section of this website, we’re going to start posting weekly about new information we’ve added or existing links, books, or organizations we want to spotlight in case you’d like to take a look at them.

For this week:

“Adjuncts Should Unionize” by Carlo Rotella. Boston Globe, August 1, 2014. Find that and more here: http://ustadjunctsunion.com/resources/adjuncts-broad-contexts-and-general-news/ under the subheading “Institutional Responses to Adjuncts Organizing.” An excerpt:

Because I direct Boston College’s American Studies and journalism programs, a better deal for adjuncts would make life more difficult for me, by limiting my flexibility in hiring, firing, and stretching my budget. Such changes could make already-expensive higher education even more costly unless cuts were made somewhere else — by curbing the proliferation of non-teaching academic bureaucrats, for instance, or by paying administrators, coaches, and tenure-track faculty like myself a little less. It would appear, then, that supporting the unionization of adjuncts goes against my narrow self-interest. But not against my broader self-interest. A university is a community of inquiry in which all sorts of people meet one another’s needs in pursuing the vital work of learning, teaching, and discovery. Like a society, it functions better for everyone if it’s not designed expressly to use up and crush the many in order to serve the privileged and increasingly isolated few.

 

“The End of the Academy?” by Beth Baker. Oxford Journals, Science & Mathematics. BioScience.  Volume 64, Issue 8, Pp. 647-652. Find that and more here: http://ustadjunctsunion.com/resources/critical-university-studies/ under the subheading “History and Purpose of Colleges and Universities.”  An excerpt:

 According to 2011 data from the National Center for Education Statistics (the most recent available), just under 30 percent of higher-education faculty members today are tenured or on the tenure track. In contrast, in 1969, 78 percent of faculty members were tenured or tenure track, and less than 22 percent were not. The majority of today’s non-tenure-track faculty members are low-paid part-timers, whose working conditions often adversely affect learning outcomes for students.

“In the biology department at Rowan University, it is possible for a freshman biology major to go their entire 4 years for a bachelor’s of science without taking a course taught by a tenure-track professor,” says Nathan Ruhl, an adjunct professor at the Glassboro, New Jersey–based school.

 

THE JUST-IN-TIME PROFESSOR: A Staff Report Summarizing eForum Responses on the Working Conditions of Contingent Faculty in Higher Education.” House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Democratic Staff. January 2014.  Find that and more here: http://ustadjunctsunion.com/resources/adjuncts-broad-contexts-and-general-news/ which is a sub-page under Resources.

 

 

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A Response to the Dean’s Letter

by Dr. Jason Skirry, Adjunct Faculty, Business Ethics / Philosophy

 I appreciate the dean’s “Post-Election” letter that was sent last night to CAS adjuncts. Of course I could quibble over the dean’s characterization of the election. (We challenged the 24 votes because we believed they did not meet the criteria for eligible voters; we will never know how they voted, but could speculate with equal confidence that a majority could have been “yes” votes. There is no way to know, so why speculate? This type of speculation does not pass intellectual muster.) But I want to respond to other aspects of his letter.

There’s one thing that we all agree on: adjuncts have been treated poorly for years and the election in no way validated or justified this treatment. The administration tacitly agrees with this or they would not have put together an “action” plan in the first place. So we all agree that there is an “adjunct problem.” I think we disagree about the magnitude of the problem, the mechanisms by which we can solve it, and what ‘solving it’ means. The administration wants to keep in place the basic power dynamic/imbalance between adjuncts and administration, but wants to add and increase some benefits to better our conditions. We don’t know what these benefits are going to be, hence my criticisms, but I applaud the gesture nonetheless. The major flaw of the administration’s charity model is that we will never have the independent means to challenge or check administrative power. We will not be able stop future administrations from taking away what was given to us during this administration. So whatever benefits we gain from this administration are merely “contingent” just like us. Under the justice model that I’m advocating, we would have the power to make these benefits permanent no matter who’s in office or how the deck chairs change within the UST bureaucracy. The best way to do this is through a union.

 Of course, the administration could give us this independent power. For example, they could recognize us as a union, design some sort of irrevocable legal document that puts us on equal footing with them, or radically change the hierarchical administrative structure of the university into some sort of worker owned enterprise. However, given their concerted effort to squash our organizing efforts , they don’t want us to have this kind of power. Let’s face facts. They have all the power and they don’t want to give it up. History has shown that in almost every case when any group has all the power, the exploitation of the powerless inevitably follows. And sadly, it’s exactly what’s happening to adjuncts here locally and nationally. The antidote to this is democracy. If done properly, democracy spreads the power around so that no one group has it all. This applies to us here at UST. We have to have an effective democratic process put in place that gives us the independent power to check the power of the administration. A union can do this. So this has nothing to do with the current president, the new provost, or the dean. I’m sure they are nice people and competent administrators. This has to do with correcting the power imbalance between adjuncts and the administration, and building a permanent structure where we can come to the table as equals to work together cooperatively. The adjunct council under the administration’s charity model does not do this. Given that there are 600 adjuncts and only 466 full-time or tenure track faculty (56.3% to 43.7% which is downright scandalous in my opinion), we need to make sure that all adjuncts are treated fairly now and in the future.

One more point. I could not help but feel that the dean was talking about our Organizing Committee (there’s no other group I can think of) when he said:

“For the very few of you who are hoping that this efforts will be wholly unsuccessful so that you might call for another election in twelve months…I only ask that you not take steps to undermine the efforts of the administration and those members of the adjunct faculty who will be working hard during that time to bring about the improvements that you say you desire.”

 We are all in this together. We would never try to undermine the administration’s efforts to make things better for us adjuncts. But let’s not confuse “undermining” with “constructive criticism.” Given the nature and intention of a university (i.e. a space where diverse ideas are expressed and welcomed), I believe that we have the right to voice our opinions and advocate for our positions. Being a philosopher, and tracing my intellectual lineage back to Socrates, I’m working within the Socratic tradition of being the horse fly pestering the noble horse of UST to live up to its own ideals expressed in its mission statement. So I would take offence to being characterized as “undermining” the efforts of other adjuncts. I’m fighting alongside them in order to make UST the best university for all adjuncts. Again, I argue that the best the way to do this is by forming a union.

In the end, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation right now if adjuncts across the university didn’t take a stand and demand justice. In fact I’m following the dean’s advice. He argued that the “threat” of unionization would force the administration to do right thing, so if we delayed we would still be able to play our “threat” card and unionize in 6 months if the administration failed to make things substantially better. Well, instead of 6 months we now have 12 months. I’m still holding onto my card.

 

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A Whole Bunch of Nothing

by Dr. Jason Skirry, Adjunct Faculty, Business Ethics / Philosophy

 Out of respect for President Sullivan, I refrained from commenting on anything about the election until she presented her much anticipated “action plan.” I wanted to give the administration the benefit of the doubt. In fact, deep down I hoped that the administration would take immediate action and do the right thing like they promised to do. Given that nearly 40% of us adjuncts voted for a union, I thought that President Sullivan would be forced to “go big” to stop another union vote in a year. Unfortunately, I was completely underwhelmed by the “action plan.” Is this the great action plan that Dean Langan trumpeted as everything he had hoped it would be? Is this it? Really? As they say, the proof is in the pudding. However, in this case, there’s no pudding.

 (1) It’s not really an “action” plan. It is a plan to set up some plans so that the administration can plan some actions. And the planning stage to plan for implementing some actions is going to take a few months? What? She argued that if we won a union that we would have to wait a whole year to bargain and that her hands would be tied until then and she wanted to act now, immediately. At this point, the president is assigning people tasks to look into some things. Why didn’t she do this last month during the election? The administration was going to have to do something no matter what, but it appears that it did nothing at all except to come up with a plan to plan for some plans. I agree that legally the administration could not publicize it, but they could have been ready to implement some things right away. It appears that we are three steps removed from doing anything. It’s the typical “roll up our sleeves” strategy that has been used at other universities, such as Loyola Marymount, the institution that the new provost just left.

(2) The adjunct council, whose membership will be selected through some elective process set up by the administration, reminds me of something… hmmm…. let me see… I can’t quite put my finger on it…oh yeah – a union. A union provides the independent legal space for adjuncts to come together freely and discuss issues that might be unpleasant for the administration to hear. It allows us to speak our minds without fear of retaliation or not being “re-hired.” Are administrators going to be present at these council meetings like they are when the faculty Senate meets? The adjunct council will have the veneer of a union, but without the most important thing a union provides: power. That is, the power of the vote. “Well, hold on,” you might be thinking, “won’t the president grant the adjunct council some power?” The operative word here is “grant.” Adjuncts will have no independent means to challenge administrative power. As some tenured faculty mentioned on this website, the faculty Senate can pass legislation, but the president has ultimate veto power that can’t be overridden. The adjunct council will be merely a formal “suggestion box” where we can submit ideas, but have no power to bargain for or implement them. This will be left up to the President and administration. Basically, the administration gets to set the table, decide how many chairs are around it, decide how we get to elect people to fill those chairs, and decide whether they will implement our ideas or not. We get to decide… well… nothing. In the end, the adjunct council reminds me of the Roman republic after Augustus consolidated his power. Rome had the appearance of a republic, but it was a republic in name only. The union election was really about giving us adjuncts power and responsibility over our work situations. The adjunct council papers over this fact just as the “trust” argument conflated benefits with power. The only way to rectify the extreme power imbalance between adjuncts and administration is through the legal framework of collective bargaining.

(3) Finally, I must say that I was quite disappointed about the administration’s communications over the past week. They don’t even mention or include those of us who voted for the union. No graceful conciliatory comments (e.g. “for those of you who voted for the union, we take your concerns seriously and we want to work with you to make UST a great place for adjuncts”). They have been more like: “the vote was not even close” (false: over 1 out of 3 of us voted for a union); “by voting ‘no’ you have shown that you can think critically and act wisely”(implying that those who voted “yes” did not think critically or act wisely); “now we can work directly and collaboratively with each other” (assuming that we could not do this with a union). These implied slights do not comport well with the mission of “one university.” In the end, I fear that our concerns for fair treatment and justice will die by a thousand committees—buried in the bowels of UST’s bureaucracy – if we continue to rely on the administration to do the right thing. A union will give us the substantive voice and vote that we need to rely on ourselves to make UST a great place for adjuncts to work.

 

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The Union We Have Already Begun Creating Together

by Lucy Saliger, Adjunct Faculty Member, English

Over the weekend as I waited anxiously, I tried to write one last post before the vote on Monday. But my parents had come to visit us from out of state, and I hadn’t seen them in two years, so I wanted to savor what time I could with them before they left our home on Monday.  I didn’t have enough time to finish that last post.  I didn’t want to rush it and put up something that was half thought out and not particularly worth reading. But in the liminal space of last weekend, when there were no more last votes to turn out and many of us felt that it was possible for the results to go either way, I thought a lot about the union-building work of the past five months.  I wrote the title that I’ve retained here. And I wrote this:

As we wait to count the votes tomorrow to find out if we will win an adjunct faculty union, I’m thinking about what we have done. We have already forged a living, active solidarity among many adjuncts and with many of our tenured colleagues and other supporters on this campus, across the larger community, and around the country.  Prior to this, many adjuncts felt invisible and isolated from one another. This effort has profoundly changed us individually and as a campus. Many of us have forged new relationships and found abilities that we never knew we had.  Many of us have grown stronger and closer to one another.

We have changed the balance of power from one in which we passively accept whatever is doled out to us to a situation in which we have more continuing say in determining what happens next. We collectively decide via this election whether and how we will begin working toward a contract with far more job security, due process, a grievance process, fairer wages, benefits, and a structure in which to do all of this.

Whatever the specific numbers are in tomorrow’s vote count, it is clear that contingent faculty cannot and will not remain isolated and passive about our labor conditions.  These labor conditions inevitably affect our students’ current learning conditions as well as their own future hopes for their studies and working lives. These inherently bound-together realities determine the kind of societies and individuals that we can become.

Even adjuncts who have told me that they planned to vote against the union know that something is wrong in higher education and at our own institution. On the first day that I went to help get out the vote with one of my favorite SEIU local organizers – Sandy, a woman who has battled enormous difficulties during her life, has worked hard for home health care workers to have the right to unionize, and ultimately became an SEIU organizer herself because of her deep commitment and idealism – on that day, she and I spoke with an adjunct who told us he was anti- union. We talked on his front porch as his young kids played outside around us.  Although we clearly had very different views about unions, he said to us: “St. Thomas needs to get back to being St. Thomas-dot-e-d-u rather than St. Thomas, inc.”

***

 That’s as far as I got before the election.  What remains clear – what the senior administration members themselves have even acknowledged – is that the status quo in UST’s dealings with adjunct faculty is not, for most of us, just fine or even okay. UST’s status quo for adjuncts has left people teaching for years – even decades – with no sick-leave, no retirement pension, no formalized job security, absurd wages for the amount of labor required, and in too many ways, a sense by many that we are “second-class citizens.”

 I would go further to argue that adjuncts have not been admitted as citizens of UST at all; we’ve inhabited this and other institutions as labor units who can be ‘flexibly’ cast out again with no citizenship rights – in some ways akin to the ways in which bracero workers – ‘guest workers’ – could be brought in and then cast out if their labor was no longer wanted.

What we have done in this unionization campaign is to enact our citizenship  – our full humanity –  in this place where we work, teach, and live parts of our life without waiting anymore for others to bestow these identities upon us.  Political theorist Bonnie Honig, writing about immigrants in the U.S., says:

 We have here a story of illegitimate demands made by people with no standing to make them, a story of people so far outside the circle of who “counts” that they cannot make claims within the existing frames of claim making. They make room for themselves by staging non-existent rights, and by way of such stagings, sometimes, new rights, powers, and visions come into being. (101)

I don’t mean to suggest that this is a perfect parallel.  As someone with family, close friends, and former ESL students who have struggled with the difficulties of immigrating to the U.S., I know that staging demands under those circumstances can be vastly more challenging and dangerous than staging our own demands for inclusion and decent compensation and benefits as adjuncts at UST. Nonetheless, grasping the connections between ourselves and others gives us a wider body of lessons to learn from and provides a vital broad context to our own situations.

Those lessons show us that any effort to bring about serious substantial changes in our society takes sustained effort.  The hyper-exploitation and precariousness of adjuncts in higher education are part of broader trends in our society.  As with other movements, we are bound to experience setbacks and defeats along the way, but when we keep at it, our ultimate victory becomes more and more likely.

Yes, we feel disappointed.  When we walked out of the NLRB office on Monday afternoon, many of us – UST adjuncts and our committed partners in local SEIU 284 – had tears in our eyes. But we had each other to lean on and learn from.  Many hugs of solidarity went around between us all.  We were disappointed, but not demoralized.

We who have worked to win a union at UST feel good about our efforts.  We and many of our coworkers proudly cast our yes votes for the union. We know, as do even many who voted no, that the administration would never have engaged with us even to this point had we not organized for a union and held this election. We will see now what the administration rolls out in seven days, as they’ve promised. Whatever it is, we should all know that the way to get and hold onto gains is to actively organize and participate. Passively waiting for administrations to ‘do the right thing’ out of the goodness of their hearts will only lead to further erosion of the quality of education and the treatment of those who do the teaching (or much of the other work) in our schools.

Every time we try for big changes, we learn new lessons, forge more alliances, and make ourselves more likely to ultimately win. And all along the way, we will have a great time building relationships, learning together, mutually aiding one another, and creating together an exciting new democratic culture for adjuncts and our fellow workers at UST and in our larger community.

I want to express my profound gratitude to my fellow adjuncts, our tenure-line colleagues, workers in many capacities at UST, our wonderful local SEIU community activist partners who gave their all in this effort, and all those in our larger community or elsewhere who stand with us!  Onward!

 

Honig, Bonnie.  Democracy and the Foreigner, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.

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About the Election

We are disappointed with the results of today’s election, but are incredibly proud of the gains this campaign achieved by bringing the reality faced by adjuncts at St. Thomas out of the shadows. By starting this process, we’ve initiated a long-overdue dialogue with leadership at St. Thomas that has not happened for far too long. We will continue our fight to improve higher education for adjunct faculty and the students we serve, but we know a union contract is the only way to attain and secure the things we need to address the crisis facing adjunct faculty across the state and country. We look forward to taking part in the meetings proposed by President Sullivan where we will continue to advocate for ways to improve conditions for adjuncts. We are more determined than ever to ensure that St. Thomas lives more fully by its mission statement for students and all members of its community, including adjunct faculty.

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Our Own Jason and Kara (and Lucy)…

I meant to put this up before and somehow forgot. Here’s a video with Jason and Kara each speaking about being adjuncts at UST and about the unionization effort.

http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/education/video-adjuncts-team-up-for-a-union

And actually, I’ll include this KFAI “Truth to Tell” interview that I was fortunate enough to take part in along with other local adjuncts on June 30. http://kfai.org/node/44302 Warning: they can only keep the episodes up for a while, so I’m not sure how long it will be available.

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If you haven’t mailed in your ballot, you can still hand-deliver it to NLRB

There is still time to turn in your ballot.  To be counted, it must be AT the NLRB by Friday at 4:30 pm.  You can drop your ballot off at the NLRB office today or before 4:30 pm tomorrow.  Take it to the NLRB Regional Office, 330 2nd  Avenue South, Suite 790, Minneapolis, MN 55401.  Get directions here.  

Call the NLRB Regional Office at 612-348-1757 if you have any questions. 

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Thoughts on “News,” Trust, and Choice

by Lucy Saliger, Adjunct Faculty Member, English

Reading the latest statements by the president, as reported in the “Newsroom,” (http://www.stthomas.edu/news/adjunct-faculty-union-election-ballots-due-friday-sullivan-urges-vote/ ), I was struck by a few things.  The first is the format in which we’re receiving these words . Even as she’s promising a “voice” for adjuncts in the wondrous future that would await us if we just didn’t have a union (which somehow has not been present in the long wondrous past without that union), there are no adjunct voices present. This is not a letter from the president, either. This purports to be St. Thomas “news.”

It makes me think again about English professor Andrew Scheiber’s post here in which he likens our union to a tool, and a very specific one – a microphone – a P.A. system. Already, we have begun enacting that with this website.  Many have told their stories and expressed their opinions.  We’re also starting a ‘big picture’ series, in which people who work at UST in various capacities or others in higher education contribute their analyses and opinions about broad, interconnected problems, challenges, and hopes for higher education.   Compare this to the relentless, simplistic messages we have continued to hear from the senior administration’s “P.A. system.”  Their “argument,” their “stories,” and even their “news” come down to two things. “Trust us” and “vote no.”  Perhaps they believe that if they repeat if enough, we’ll just follow those sloganized orders uncritically.

Secondly, the president claims she trusts us.   What is the amorphous “trust” that keeps being demanded of us to feel toward senior administration and that she likewise supposedly feels toward us?  A friend of mine pointed out some time back that if we make trust into a transitive verb (bear with me here) – meaning that an object must receive the action – we gain some insight into this bandying about of “trust.”  Here is an example of a transitive verb in a sentence:  ”The boy loved his brother.” It’s different than vaguely stating: “The boy loved.”  What happens when we ask: trust her TO DO WHAT?  And likewise: she trusts us TO DO WHAT?

Clearly, the senior administration does NOT trust those of us who do not get in line with their monolithic view (“trust us to hold all of the power here”) to express ourselves, even in these “news” articles.  Nor do they trust us to have any real mechanism for shared power over our own compensation and benefits.  THEY will handle it all – as they have been handling it all for decades, much to the detriment of those who have had classes pulled from them without due process and those who can’t support themselves on the wages for the work they do and those who will “retire” with no pension, not even a pro-rated one, for decades of devoted labor in their oh so trustworthy system.  And THEY trust US to keep working under whatever conditions they decide to create for us.

“Trust” should have a basis.  The kind of amorphous, un-boundaried “trust” the president asks for means that we set aside our ability to think critically about specific relevant histories and about the regional or national contexts of adjunct exploitation and instead engage in magical thinking.  ”Trust” means something more like “wish” for something to be so, against all evidence.

 

Lastly, I have been thinking about the president’s claims that some people will not work for St. Thomas as adjuncts if adjuncts form a union.  She says she is against a union because she wants to retain those people.  How many of them are there? How many will resign because they are so vehemently opposed to the democratic process of collective bargaining and to us making more livable wages with better job security?

I would like to know whether those of us who DO want a union matter.  I spoke with someone a little over a week ago who plans to leave this university to teach where she will have a union contract for almost 50 percent more than she’s been paid here with other benefits as well, including job security and the protection of a union in which one can file grievances and count on due process if need be.  Perhaps the president does not care to retain that adjunct professor.  For some reason, those of us who do not want to have to keep working without the beneficial structures, better pay, and progressive improvement of a union contract do not matter much.  I suppose this is because the senior administration “trusts” that even if so many of us do want a union, they can manage to extract our labor without one if we remain desperate enough to have no other choices.

And what they cannot stand – what they have been fighting so hard with their “one voice” P.A. system – is that we DO have another choice.  We have the choice to trust ourselves and each other to form a union together.  We have the choice to trust the structure we help to create, the P.A. system we share, rather than a structure built and controlled by others in which we can only listen to their voice or say what they want us to say.

We are making our own news.

 

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