Friday, August 23, 2002

United We Stink

There are days when I really hate working for a Union. Today is one of those days.

The semester just started yesterday, and various part-time faculty members are discovering for the first time that they have absolutely no job security from semester to semester. They get dropped from a class they've been teaching for years: sometimes because the class enrollment was low and was not on the deans' pet-list; sometimes to give the class to a full-time faculty member whose own class got cancelled due to low enrollment and they have to make up a legal workload; sometimes to give the class to another part-timer, just because the dean of that department wants to do a favor for a crony. Naturally, these displaced teachers turn to their Union for help in such matters... and, unfortunately, the Union can do nothing.

Though we have included and fought for seniority rights and fair hiring practices for part-timers in our contract proposals for years... in fact, ever since the Union started representing part-time faculty back in the 80s... the district has never budged on part-time issues. The administration won't even consider hiring rights, paid health benefits, salary-schedule mobility, or job security of any kind for part-time faculty. Why should they? Nobody else does... no other community college district treats its part-timers any better.

The part-time teacher is the migrant farm-worker of Academia: there's this huge pool of cheap labor that is so easily and economically exploitable, trained people who are essentially powerless because there are so many of them that they can be immediately replaced. There is no lack of community college teachers floating around, and once they get started pasting together a full-time job with several part-time jobs in different districts, it is fairly easy to convince them that they're doing okay, no need to storm and burn the castle. Part-timers are legally considered just temps, intended to fill in the gaps created by fluctuating enrollment; but in reality, they do almost the same work as a full-time faculty member for half the cost, and have no rights so you can do whatever you want with them. For the petty-power-playing mind of your average academic administrator, this is too great a temptation to be resisted — if it were up to them, the entire district would be staffed with cowed and terrified part-timers.

Fortunately, there are laws in this state about that sort of thing, laws designed mostly to protect the jobs of tenured full-timers, which state that at least 50% of all instruction must be performed by full-time faculty. But the administrators stick really close to that number, and sometimes fudge just a little bit. It's just so much easier and cheaper to have part-timers.

But still, again quite naturally, these part-timers resent having to pay dues to a Union that doesn't achieve much for them. Though we have been fighting and fighting, and though we spend a huge amount of our time defending part-timers from contract violations, we haven't actually done much for the part-timers as a group. It's rather depressing.

What makes it more depressing is that, with the Professional Staff (my coworkers) out on leaves, I am having to talk to all these upset part-timers when they call. JB and BB are part-time teachers themselves, and so know all the ins and outs of the issues, the history of the part-timer and the soothing words to speak; I only know the bottom line, which is that part-timers are screwed, end of story. And some of these people, when they learn that they've been paying their pennies into a Union that can't do for them what they want done, become rather nasty to the poor schmo who has to answer the phone...namely, me.

Then on the other side of the spectrum, you have the full-timers bitching and moaning about various unfairnesses in their lives. For these people, I have rather less sympathy... I mean, they make fairly good livings (average contract salary: $66,673), they generally have tenure and job-security, and have contract rights all over the place. The usual beefs we get from full-timers have to do with interpersonal conflicts with administrators or fellow faculty-members (that is, college professors acting like big babies). Sometimes we get one where someone was improperly disciplined or incorrectly placed on the salary schedule or simply treated badly by the administration. But quite often we get people who want to have more money and less work, or who want to take revenge on somebody, or who comes crying for defense after doing something unethical or illegal and getting caught at it. These people leave a bad taste in my mouth.

And so here I sit in the middle of it all, the only non-teacher and non-union-member among all these teachers and unionists, the disgust I feel towards our membership exceeded only by the disgust I feel toward the administrators of the public institution from whom we defend them, and it sucks to be me.

So anyway. I've got my newsletter finished, I just need a final OK from Boss-Lady before I can take it to the printers, and then I'm done with this week. Hopefully JB will be back next week, and also hopefully the semester will get busy enough that the faculty won't have time to come crying to us. And maybe the weather will change again... I like cool cloudy weather, but not when I'm in this kind of a mood.

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