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Legislature should let community college faculty manage their own affairs

Guest Opinion: A measure proposed in Olympia would set faculty against one another.
Karen Strickland

Karen Strickland

Michael Boggess

Michael Boggess

If you or someone you know has taken a class at one of Washington’s community and technical colleges, there is a 50-50 chance that the instructor was a part-time faculty member.

For decades, higher education institutions across the country have increasingly hired part-time, adjunct or contingent faculty to teach, primarily because of shrinking state funding. In our state, two-thirds of the faculty workforce are contingent — teachers who aren't in line for permanent tenure and frequently only working part-time at a college. It’s easy to blame the union representing faculty, but study after study and story after story prove that the system itself is broken.

A report released January 24 by the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce, called “The Just-In-Time Professor,” shares the findings of an e-forum the committee's Democrats conducted to collect information about adjunct experiences. The report affirms there is an academic staffing crisis in higher education that’s built on a cheap source of labor. According to the findings about the faculty, “their story is another example of the shrinking middle class and another data point in the widening gap between rich and poor.”

“These people played by the rules and found employment in a highly skilled, in-demand field, but are being put under extreme stress — with some even living in or on the edge of poverty,” said senior Democratic committee member U.S. Rep. George Miller of California.

Unfortunately, Senate Bill 5844 (sponsored by Sens. Tim Sheldon and Pam Roach) would perpetuate the inequity at an annual cost of $600,000. The bill may be dead for this year but similar measures have been introduced before and can be expected in the future. Proposals like this would exacerbate the two-tier faculty system by forming separate unions for part-time and full-time faculty.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Washington is one of two legally recognized labor organizations which represent over 10,000 faculty in our community and technical colleges. For years we have worked hard through collective bargaining and legislation to improve the working conditions of part-time faculty. This includes fighting for equal pay for equal work, professional development, sick leave benefits, priority hiring, eligibility for unemployment insurance and rights to classes before full-time faculty take on extras. Contingent faculty are represented on our boards and committees and have a voice.

Recent contracts in our locals are showing improvement for contingent faculty. At Shoreline and Seattle community colleges, for example, many part-time faculty are guaranteed classes before full-time are allowed to work extra classes, and their union contracts ensure that they are interviewed for full-time positions in their departments. When the state Legislature allocated a small pot of money last year to restore the budget cuts, the faculty unions made sure that part-time faculty got an equal or greater share of the money as full-time.

We continue to address these issues. Our members support legislation such as HB 1348, which would allow faculty and college administration to bargain the use of discretionary local college funds (tuition, parking fees, international programs) for salary steps for part- and full-time faculty. Their step increases are currently funded by the state Legislature but, because of the economy and disinvestment in higher education, an overwhelming majority have not been implemented. The buck stops with the state Legislature and college boards of trustees, and it’s time to reward contingent faculty for their hard work.

College accreditation recommendations increasingly call for improved working conditions for contingent faculty, and these recommendations set the stage for having better leverage at the bargaining table.

SB 5844 is not the answer. Its approach is a flawed one that would undermine the collective power of faculty, leaving contingent faculty with the monumental task of organizing, forming a new bargaining unit, and competing for new contracts. It is a divide-and-conquer approach that perpetuates the two-tier system that was set up by college administrations long before unions began representing faculty.

Karen Strickland is the president of AFT Washington, past president of AFT Seattle Community Colleges Local 1789, taught in the Social and Human Services Program at Seattle Central Community College, and was a mental health counselor for 16 years.

Michael Boggess is a part-time instructor at Pierce College, has taught English Composition as an adjunct since 1999, and is the chair of AFT Washington’s Contingent Faculty Issues Committee.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Feb 21, 5:44 a.m. Inappropriate

Yes, let's let the Democratic Party's thugs - unions - corrupt the community college system, too. Pretty soon they will be as politicized and unaffordable as the ivory towers. Go online kids. Encourage your parents to starve those social institutions that have been corrupted by public sector unions.

BlueLight

Posted Sun, Feb 23, 1:55 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh, it's been nice not having to read these posts at Crosscut for more than a year since I left the Gates-Google-Bezos-redneck town of Seattle. But since I still live in WA and work as an adjunct, south, I knew I had to comment on the unionizing bill and the AFT debunking it. And, alas, it's this BlueLight/RedLight dude or dudette. Again! Constantly. What a waste of libertarian tea party tripe.

UNIONS need fixing, not out with the bathwater. What a load here. Let's have Whole Foods, Walmart, Amazon, Costco, Boeing, Google and all the others call the shots, now that is the way.

Go for on-line education? Right. I've been teaching since 1983 in many states, in prisons, with all kinds of students, even the US Army, Air Force, high schools, alternative schools, gifted and talented, even Gonzaga and big UT-El Paso, as well as at four Community Colleges in the Evergreen Pot State. Hands down, students are P-O-ed about this distance learning (sic) and on-line learning (sic) move by the IT techie creeps. Really. Hands down. Thousands of students polled, directly.

On-line and distance CEOs, well, that makes sense. Pay 'em as part-time scabs. About 1/100th of their current salaries? Makes sense there.

But this other Blue-RedLight load wanting what, society to be on a screen, plugged in, downloaded by the cloud server fascists? Absolutely one of the worst inventions since, err, the lobby, on-line schooling. The Coder and IT and rotten computerization and privatization of everything LOBBIES.

Yeah, the private sector, big business, big energy, big IT, big retail, big Pharma, big Med, big military industrial complex, shoot, they are bastions of ethics, caring, and, whoops, free markets. Except, they are gravy train pigs. Slopping up tax abatement schemes, government contracts, taxpayer's trillions. Right, let's let the CEOs and casino capitalists rule the roost.

Unions need fixing and we need more worker cooperatives, more teeth in putting down those CEOs and their thugs who have been bilking cities, counties, states, our country and other countries since we let them have their superior rights of personhood.

Blue-Red Light, oh, what pablum.

PaulKirk

Posted Fri, Feb 21, 9:02 a.m. Inappropriate

I keep hearing about how equity and a voice for contingent faculty will cost so much -- so when do we get a look at supporting documents and figures? Don't academics tell students citing sources is important?

If SB 5844 is flawed, then come up with something that will correct flaws and inequities in current legislation. For starters, protect contingent faculty from tenured supervisors in the same union. Allow them to file unfair working conditions complaints with PERC as individuals instead of continuing to let those complained against gate keep and block the process like foxes set to guard the hen house. FYI this is legal in other states -- why not in WA?

VCVaile

Posted Fri, Feb 21, 10:46 a.m. Inappropriate

Here is the problem, particularly at "vocational" CCs.

The full timers, often craft or skill instructors, work full days, due to the programs. The academic part-timers are in the samee union. However, the interests of the two faculty groups are not consistent.

Craft and skill instructors define "full time" as teaching 6 or so hours, as they are required to do. That does not allow part-timers to have their interests heard, unless they can take over union leadership.

Two different animals, should have two different unions, to negotiate each groups legitimate interests.

No, I have no dog in the hunt, though the Geezer in a previous life was a full time faculty member of a 4 year state University.

Geezer

Posted Fri, Feb 21, 1 p.m. Inappropriate

The title of Strickland’s and Boggess’ piece suggests a sort of “hands off” measure, but their op-ed is directed against SB 5844, a bill that proposes to allow non-tenured adjuncts to form unions independent of their tenured faculty colleagues, which state law does not currently allow.

The authors sidestep the basic question whether tenured and non-tenured faculty share a community of interests and belong in the same bargaining unit. Instead they emphasize the questionable SB 5844 fiscal note that makes the dubious claims that the bill would cost the state $600,000 per year. But even that inflated cost would seem to justify the need for the bill—such an expenditure may reflect how ill-prepared the state’s 30 college districts truly are to bargain for part-time faculty, even though some claim that part-time issues have been bargained all along.

Strickland and Boggess claim that the AFT union has been "fighting for equal pay for equal work" and for "[part-time faculty] rights to classes before full-time faculty take on extras.” To resolve whether this is mere lip service, the facts can speak for themselves: Most adjuncts in Washington state colleges, after several decades of the current union structure, are far, far from receiving equal pay, or, for that matter, equal work, and most do not have job security. The authors should be credited for acknowledging that tenured faculty do “take on” extra classes; the authors could have pointed out that part-time faculty are prevented from working full-time--even when there is work and even when the part-time instructors may need additional income. Whenever full-time faculty take on extra classes, they displace part-time faculty work, which is a clear conflict of interests among members of the same union.

The authors make it sound as though HB 1348, which seeks to allow the tenured-faculty dominated unions access to bargain for other revenues of the college, like tuition, is primarily for adjuncts when they say "it's time to reward contingent faculty for their hard work." That is a profoundly doubtful contention. Historically, legislative appropriations intended for "faculty" that have not been earmarked for part-time faculty have gone primarily to full-time faculty. Chief among the reasons for HB 1348 is to augment increments. Before 2006, 90 percent of legislative increment appropriations went to full-time tenured faculty. In most of our 30 community college districts, no part-time faculty incremental salary schedule has been bargained, meaning that beginning adjuncts and those with a decade or more of service are paid the same amount. Meanwhile, the unions have bargained incremental salary schedules for all full-time faculty in the state. If HB 1348 were to pass, there is certainly no guarantee that funds being managed by the faculty union, rather than the college, would necessarily benefit part-time faculty.

Posted Sun, Feb 23, 11:29 a.m. Inappropriate

While I am not part of Washington State, I am very interested in what is happening there, as it repeats — inversely — what is happening throughout the country, but especially in the South, where I am from. I see the arguments that Jack Longmate poses, and I wonder what it is that these AFT union people have to hide; yet it seems to me this is exactly what they are doing. "It is a divide-and-conquer approach that perpetuates the two-tier system that was set up by college administrations long before unions began representing faculty."

I know these words are often spoken by administrators warning their folk about unions coming in to invade colleges and universities, yet this is now AFT writing them, twisting them: “‘Curiouser and curiouser!’ Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).” [From Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass]

Doesn't that smack of something going against the grain? Why are these AFT union people so intent in keeping another union from forming? Of calling union formation anti-union, of using anti-union language, when what the only thing SB 5844 wants to do is establish its own separate union, apart from the full-time faculty union, because their interests are antithetical? What are AFT and the other big unions afraid of?

It seems that if Washington State does not revisit this very logical bill, and let an adjunct faculty union form — just like Alice from Wonderland — they will have forgotten "how to speak good English", and they will be forever stuck, not in a good way, "through the Looking Glass", trying to get out.

In sol(idarity),

Ana M. Fores Tamayo
Adjunct Justice
Petition: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/better-pay-for-adjuncts
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/AdjunctJustice

anamfores

Posted Sun, Feb 23, 12:53 p.m. Inappropriate

Tired, tired old capitalist paradigm. I am an adjunct, worked my tail off to get as many classes possible, worked with presidents of colleges and administration, worked to engage the public in our colleges, worked to publicized education through my columns and radio show in several Washington cities. Full-time faculty, hands down, have ZERO idea what we, adjuncts, the majority, give to schools, give to students.

To hear the tired old AFT broken old time religion unionism spew this lame BS is pathetic in 2014. We are the reason FT faculty exist, unfortunately, in this continuous attack on state funding, state education standards, education in general.

Pay us more, period. If the state of Washington, the union honchos, the Admin Class and presidents and professional high-paid hoppers from college to college, and all that gristle at the top, in weird positions at these schools for institutional advancement, data collection and plans to nowhere really just left the school, we would have funding.

Simple logic -- tax millionaires, and get real education leader elected and at the college admin level to do the hard work of showing and demonstrating the added value of a decent community college and state college education.

To have AFT say that AFT and the unions and our masters have somehow looked after the weakest and most vulnerable of the lot, well, that's a plain lie.

And as a preventative, all those screwy folk that want to tell us 50 and 55 year olds to get real jobs, full time jobs, go back to your islands of stupidity. The real world is one of precarious work, largely because we have let the Jeff Bezos and Phil Knights and all those BS defense and military and data and IT folk, big on the public welfare gravy train, to infect our politics and our communities.

We need unions out of the way and begin pushing for cooperatives, and collectives.

We have had enough of the propaganda of AFT and bluster of these professional "organizers" and flak jackets. We need real fighters to go to bat for us, and that might take FT faculty sucking it up and giving up their raises and their moonlighting and benefits like professional development to help with the majority class, adjuncts, who are some of the best assets of any school any level of educator or Admin class type or Dean-let might consider if they only took off their elitist blinders.

PaulKirk

Posted Thu, Mar 20, 10:55 a.m. Inappropriate

Seriously, AFT? You seriously believe you are actively advocating for part timers in their best interests?

We get the same line of propaganda in California, so I am not at all surprised that AFT yet again takes it upon itself to undermine our attempts to not only advocate but speak for ourselves. (See: http://cpfa.org/blog/betting-for-change-on-the-cpfa/#comments where AFT threw us under the bus at the state government level)

You just don't get it, do you?

Mixed faculty unions are run by full timers. Part timers are elected in positions representing part time issues only while simultaneously being told they must also give equal weight to representing all faculty. This both undermines part time advocacy and adds the throngs of part time votes to issues concerning full timers like COLA increases, sabbaticals, and benefits, things that have no affect on part time working conditions save a miniscule increase in hourly wages.

A 2% increase adds quadruple digits to a full time faculty member's salary but maybe a buck to adjunct hourly wages, amounting to about a $50 hike per course over the semester. Adding insult to injury, parity pay is virtually nonexistent at the community college level, so without even realizing it, what AFT and other parent unions are actually ending up advocating is keeping us in our places.

See, you just don't get it.

I fully support full time faculty members advocating for themselves. Why can’t you support us?

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