Union Solidarity. What Is at Stake?
There will be a number of external challenges facing unions in the months ahead. If we are to survive and preserve our strength to collectively bargain agreements that improve the working conditions for our members and the learning conditions for our students, we must come together in solidarity of purpose.
On October 2, 2017, the United States Supreme Court began a new term. As one of its first acts, the Court has agreed to hear Janus v. AFSCME, which will determine whether the First Amendment operates as a constitutional “right to work” law in the public sector. The issue was before the Court two years ago in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which ended with a 4-to-4 tie vote following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. All eyes are now on Trump’s appointee, Neil Gorsuch, to cast the deciding vote in Janus.
The Janus case represents a decades long campaign by the National Right to Work Committee and other anti-labor groups to prevent state and local governments from entering into “fair-share fee” arrangements (called “agency fees” within MCCC). Allowing the sharing of fees represents decades of cooperative labor history in collective bargaining.
A statement released by leaders of our nation’s four largest public-sector unions – the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) – called the Janus case “a blatantly political and well-funded plot to use the highest court in the land to further rig the economic rules against everyday working people.”
If Janus passes, the rights of workers Union to organize and share the costs associated with collective bargaining will be severely limited.
Across the Commonwealth, unionized faculty and staff at our community colleges, state universities, and UMass campuses have been attempting for months to negotiate successor contracts with the state. The financial offers are less than cost of living increases and amount to pay cuts. The lack of funding by the state in supporting public higher education contributes to course cancellations; increased use of adjunct faculty and part-time employees who lack wage parity, job security and benefi ts; and more hikes in tuition and fees for students. Meanwhile, the state’s per-student investment in public education has declined 31% since 2001.
SEIU 509, representing Tufts University part-time faculty, won a tentative contract agreement with its administration on October 10, 2017—one day before a massive faculty walkout. After seven months of negotiations, the proposed five-year contract achieved fairer pay, better job security, more paid professional development opportunities, and other benefits for its part-time faculty. Highlights included:
- Significant pay increases: Over half of the part-time faculty will see a raise of 22.5% over the life of the contract. Others will receive a minimum 12.5% pay increase during this contract
- Job Security and Professional Courtesy: There will be stronger provisions governing the review and appointment process. Faculty will receive earlier notification if their contract will not be renewed, giving them adequate time to find other employment.
- Professional Development: Tufts will expand the eligibility criteria to improve access to fund for paid professional development opportunities for faculty.
The achievement of this SEIU contract demonstrates the power of solidarity of action that involves all stakeholders including students and the community served and demonstrates that “When we fight, we win.”
The MCCC DCE/adjunct unit bargains with the 15 Massachusetts community college presidents because the unit must, by law, be totally self-supporting. But, we go far beyond being self-supporting. The MCCC DCE/adjunct unit of over 4,500 underpaid, non-benefited adjuncts who teach 70-85% of all community college credit courses is actually a “revenue generator” for the community college system—the “cash cow,” if you will. Yet, less and less of that generated revenue goes to supporting teaching and learning.
The time is ABSOLUTELY NOW to stop the exploitation of adjunct faculty and to provide #EqualPay4EqualWork for instruction to all faculty within the Massachusetts community college system, whether full-time or part-time.
The MCCC adjunct (DCE) unit has been bargaining with the employer (community college presidents) for over 440 days and (while negotiating two years of a three year contract that expired on May 31, 2016) has been offered 0% and 1%, which would give adjunct faculty an insulting $10.66 – $12.88 per credit raise over two years.
The lowest-paid adjunct faculty (Step 1) currently receives $3,198 for teaching a 3-credit course. The highest-paid adjunct faculty (Step 4) currently receives $3,864 for teaching a 3-credit course. The revenue generated (tuition and fees) by that same 3-credit course (based on $619 for 3-credit in-state tuition/fees times a maximum enrollment of 32 students per course) amounts to $19,808. The revenue surplus after taking out direct costs for faculty instruction is $15,944 to $16,610 per 3-credit course. Even with just 15 students per course, the Colleges generate $9,285 per 3-credit course with a revenue surplus of $5,421 to $6,087 per each 3-credit course.
The revenue exists to provide for pay parity for adjunct faculty.
The MCCC Board of Directors is being asked to support DCE (adjunct) contract negotiations through the use of strategic actions, including Work-to-Rule that was successfully used in reaching an agreement on MCCC Day unit contract negotiations in 2015
It is time for the Board to zealously represent the DCE/adjunct Unit and authorize aggressive actions to reach a contract settlement that respects the work of adjunct faculty.