October 19, 2018

Community college faculty convene around ‘union moments’

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
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Almara Khan, a database administrator at the Fashion Institute of Technology, shared with her United College Employees colleagues her “union moment.” Prior to starting work at the New York City college, she weighed two job offers. She accepted the FIT offer, even though the salary was initially less, because she did not want to work in a stressful environment. She has since been promoted, and says “I am a wife of a very caring husband and a mother of two lovely children. Thanks to the UCE of FIT-negotiated benefits and services, I am able to balance life between my career and family, giving me peace of mind.”

The UCE publishes a “union moment” each week in its online union newsletter, which keeps members up to date on changes in work, contracts, union solidarity building, social justice activities and other union events. The community college union also recently worked with NYSUT to conduct a survey to discern adjunct faculty issues and problems.  Members are also being encouraged to post “I’m sticking with our union” in workspaces around FIT.

“Every time a UCE officer comes across a workspace that is declaring the employee is a proud union member, we're going to take a picture and post the photo in this newsletter. Just identify the workspace as yours, and we'll come down with a “Union Strong” gift for you,” said Roberta Elins, president of the UCE, sharing several ways to gain traction with union identification.

“We are all better off if we are union strong,” said Kevin Peterman, president of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College. “The only way to advocate and negotiate is to show your local is union strong.”

Ideas on building solidarity, union strength and continuing to push back from anti-union forces will be key motivators in this weekend’s 40th annual NYSUT Community College Conference. Union leaders are charging into the event with enough union-strengthening tools to stock solidarity hardware stores across the state.

Among them: how to better serve adjuncts; how to address women’s issues in the union; how to reclaim the promise of racial equity in education and in the community; members rights and responsibilities in Title VII and IX; how to strengthen local unions with member surveys; and how to collaborate for LGBQT solidarity.

In the last decade, there has been a shift to hire more and more adjuncts, said Peterman, who believes it is because of continued underfunding of public higher education.  “Unions have made it a top priority to highlight the plight of adjuncts and negotiate better pay, better job security and better working conditions,” he said.

The NYSUT conference will feature many sessions dealing with adjunct issues. The conference, conceived by the late Lou Stollar, former president of the UCE of the Fashion Institute of Technology, is a place for community college union leaders to learn, recharge and share strategies on topics ranging from contracts to speaking with faculty about why it’s worth being a union member.

“The first thing is to listen to members,” Peterman said. “Communication, collaboration and commitment are very important as well. Face-to-face conversations are they key, and union leadership needs to reach out and not overwhelm potential advocates.”

The FA has 100 percent of full-time faculty as members.

“We have some faculty who taught at other higher ed institutions in non-union states and they know first hand the benefits of having a union,” Peterman said. “We tell new faculty that they are lucky to be in New York because it is a pro labor state.”

Of the 1,475 adjuncts, 86 percent are members and Peterman said the local union is in the process of visiting the nonmembers to discuss the importance of membership.

Nonmembers will not have the protections to which members are entitled, including legal defense and representation services, assistance with discrimination claims, unemployment appeals, workers compensation claims, etc.  Also, they will not have advice and representation when questioned by an administrator will not be able to vote in union elections nor the rights to purchase or maintain endorsed member benefit products and services.

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