Why I love my union

Let me begin by saying that like any large, complex organization, APSCUF has its issues.  I’m not going to detail them here (you never know who’s reading!); my point is that I’m not going to wax utopian about how perfect we are, because we’re not.

However, I had several conversations, both formal and informal, at last week’s annual meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication that helped me regain some perspective on the quality of the work we do representing our faculty across the PA State System of Higher Education.

Without naming names or campuses, let’s just say that I talked to several people whose unions had committed what strike me as grave errors over the last year.  We know that the California State U system faculty voted to accept furloughs last year.  I don’t blame individual faculty for casting those votes; CSU management did a smart (albeit evil) thing by asserting that faculty could accept furloughs or could cause the firing of several hundred adjunct faculty members.  Given that most adjunct faculty are living on shoestrings already, it’s hard to consign them to a worse fate–total joblessness.  I will argue, though, that despite some criticisms I’ve heard since I became an active APSCUF member in 2002, including contingent faculty in our bargaining unit protects us against this kind of strategy.  Divide-and-conquer tactics work less well when everybody’s united in the same unit.

In two other systems, managers are dangling increased reassign time in front of writing program/writing center faculty in order to maintain high levels of work without any extra support or compensation.  The all-but-promise, that is, says that if faculty will work extra-hard now, they’ll be rewarded later with the support they need to do the current extra-hard work.  We all know that those kinds of all-but-promises don’t amount to a hill of beans unless the unions make it so.  It doesn’t sound like that’s happening, though, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why.  APSCUF has worked hard to make sure that necessary reassign time and support are protected.  We may have upset some people whose reassign time we haven’t worked so hard to protect, but knowing that we really are up against the budget wall, we have to make good decisions about what’s worth fighting for and what isn’t.  Contrasted with what I’m hearing about other unions and systems, I think we’re making those good decisions.

I talked with two people from yet other unions/systems that are currently trying to replicate the recently ended Cal U in the High Schools program, which allowed high school students to take courses at their high schools, taught by high school teachers, for college credit.  The problems with this are legion.  It took APSCUF several years to end this program, although the last few of those several years were spent trying to enforce an arbitration that should have ended the program sooner.  But at least we did it, and to discover that other unions are slow to respond to similar initiatives is, not to put too fine a point on it, distressing.

And all of these examples omit the larger category of conversations I had with faculty who aren’t unionized, either because they haven’t gotten there yet or aren’t allowed to be.  Let’s just say that I thank my lucky stars for the work APSCUF has done over the years and continues to do.  And to APSCUF members who get frustrated with the organization at times, I can only exhort you to talk with colleagues in other places besides PASSHE, and to understand that we have here is a remarkably solid union–as long as we all stand together and make it so.

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