Tag Archive | union

Wriggling My Toes for Justice

Wriggling My Toes for Justice: Reflecting on our Union Journey—and Naming Names

David R. Weiss, January 2016

Note: This is a longer than usual post; read it as a pdf if you prefer.

On December 17, around 1 a.m., two bleary-eyed teams of negotiators signed off on a tentative agreement for the first union contract between Hamline University and the adjunct faculty of SEIU Local 284. This was nearly two years after we began organizing a union, more than 500 days after we affirmed our hopes in a union vote, fourteen months into bargaining, and sixteen hours after we sat down at the table one last time the prior day.

We have the honor of being the first adjunct faculty to unionize in Minnesota. Technically, there are unionized adjunct faculty at the state schools in Minnesota, but they’re covered by union contracts won and negotiated by fulltime faculty—and the adjunct faculty at those schools often don’t have full union benefits themselves, nor do they teach under a contract bargained with their interests at the forefront. We are the first group of adjunct faculty to organize as adjuncts and win a union for ourselves. And the first unionized faculty of any sort at a private college or university in the state (current law prevents fulltime faculty at private schools from organizing unions). So this is a historic moment.

It’s been a long journey to reach this day, and I’m offering these personal reflections as someone who was deeply involved from the very first organizing meeting through putting my signature onto the tentative agreement on December 17 as steward of our bargaining unit. I’m no historian, so I am neither claiming nor trying to be exhaustive here. But before my own memories fade, I want to capture a few of them—and also name some names.

Naming Names

We were organized by SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, and a few worthy shout outs go to SEIU staffers. Nikki Bohen, Haley Leibowitz, and Allie Busching were the initial SEIU organizers who came to Hamline. Such work is often mostly thankless, so their intrepid efforts are all the more laudable.

The first adjunct faculty who stepped forward to form the organizing committee that led our drive to become a union were Swati Avasthi (Creative Writing), Jen Beckham (English), Juliette Patterson (Creative Writing), Jhon Wlaschin (Psychology), and me, David Weiss (Religion). It would be hard to overstate the courage required of these folks. We faced odds and obstacles as challenging (and occasionally as idiotic) as any reality TV show—and with far greater goods at stake. We began as relative strangers on almost all counts except our convictions and ended as dearly trusted colleagues.

Throughout our organizing campaign leading up to our union vote we received assistance from Nikki and Haley, as well as others at SEIU. Most notably, Josh Keller, who coached us in media strategy and messaging focus, and Todd Rickert, who came in at several points to help us navigate the petition process that secured us the right to vote.

The adjunct faculty who served on our bargaining team could write their own Cliff Notes on Dante’s nine circles of hell. This is not to demonize our administration counterparts (though at some points that case is compelling…), but to acknowledge the peculiar stress of bargaining so long on behalf of so many and against such odds. Those who served at one time or another on our bargaining team were Jen Beckham (English), Mark Felton (Accounting), Adam Lindberg (English), Andrea Moerer (Latin American Studies), Gabrielle Rose (English), Jhon Wlaschin (Psychology), Della Zurick (Political Science), and me, David Weiss (Religion). Altogether we invested some 750+ hours—all unpaid—in the bargaining process. Some of our members even paid for childcare so they could volunteer on the bargaining team.

Even though our first contract did not reach as far as we might have liked, its reach went further than many though possible. And that is a testament to the perseverance, creativity, resilience, and mutuality practiced by this these folks. If Hamline ever had any doubts about the intellectual strengths or the steadfast character of their adjunct faculty, we silenced all such doubts at the bargaining team.

In addition to the five faculty members on our bargaining team at any given time, our lead negotiator throughout the process was Carol Nieters, executive director of SEIU, Local 284, the education local with which we are affiliated. A seasoned negotiator, Carol educated us along the way about bargaining and contracts, received our input and offered her counsel. She made sure that we made every final decision, and then carried our words faithfully and forcefully to the table. More than any other person at SEIU, she accompanied us on the longest stretch of this journey.

Two other SEIU folks deserve special mention for playing small but critical roles in our effort. Dave Zaffrann assisted with our social media campaigns as well as fine-tuning our messaging during the homestretch. And Kevin Hippert was the person who routinely launched my Union Stew member messages into cyber space.

Too many to name. Besides the folks whom I’ve named, there are countless others. Among them, our adjunct faculty peers who shared this journey with us in so many ways, cheering us own, showing solidarity, voicing gratitude, stepping up for tasks when needed. Also students, whose readiness to become visible on our behalf was priceless. And both staff and fulltime faculty who found myriad ways to offer support, some of it quiet, personal, and off-radar, some of it very public. Every expression of support mattered. There were days when the smallest gesture undid a mountain of doubt, and days when a grand readiness to stand with us embodied the very best of Hamline’s ideals against its own bargaining posture.

We—together (because that’s how union works)—made history.

A Brief Re-Cap

The saga of our journey rightfully includes both the wider context of economic and ideological pressures facing higher education nationwide, as well as Hamline’s own peculiar jaunt through that terrain. Higher education as whole, and Hamline as one instance, have been more complicit than resistant to the forces that have made adjunct attractive and easy targets for exploitation. But the contours of that story are available elsewhere. This is a more personal narrative.

It begins in February 2014 the initial SEIU organizers Nikki, Haley, and Allie, crisscrossing campus to connect with a very disconnected adjunct faculty. They caught many of us after a class ended and struck up conversations in which they dared to pose out loud questions many of us already had rumbling around inside: “Do you enjoy teaching? How do you feel about your pay and work conditions as an adjunct faculty member? Can you imagine something better—pay and conditions that would help you flourish as a teacher? Would you like to be part of building that something better right here at Hamline?” If you think about it, these questions are actually quite similar to the sorts of aspirational and vocational questions Hamline hopes their students ask about their place and role in the world.

No doubt some adjunct faculty were put off by these unexpected interruptions in our day. We are, after all, a diverse lot of folks. But for others of us, these questions invited conversation, community, and collective action. Thus, Nikki, Haley, and Allie sparked a beginning. Would you call them “outside agitators”? That entirely misses the point. In the face of injustice, there is no such thing as an outside agitator. Each one of us, insider or outsider, either agitates for justice or becomes a guilty bystander.

Swathi Avasthi, Jen Beckham, Juliette Patterson, Jhon Wlaschin, and I chose to agitate for justice, forming an organizing committee to build a union. There were a few others who joined us for a meeting or two—and many others who were vocal in their support of our work, but we were the five who came to count on each other with almost unimaginable camaraderie as we ventured into wholly unmapped territory together. We brainstormed strategies, imagined possibilities, weighed the union’s advice, met with administrators, co-edited our public messages … and spoke with almost every one of our adjunct peers, whether in person, by phone, or by email. We guided the union effort from our first meeting (Feb. 2014) at Dunn Bros. Coffee on East Lake at the river through gathering sufficient signatures to petition for an election (April 2014), to the union election itself (June 2014) and concluded our work with the (August 2014) appointment of a bargaining team and selection of me as our first steward.

Typically, a single team would bargain a contract from start to finish. But one of the reasons adjuncts have been so prone to exploitation is the very transient and unpredictable character of our work, and this dynamic shaped the ability of even our most committed members to serve on the bargaining team. Every hour we bargained was on our own time—sometimes, for those who needed to obtain childcare, at our own expense. Not surprisingly, changes in teaching schedules, teaching loads, teaching locations (sometimes at multiple schools), and personal circumstances necessitated some who served to step aside after several months. We wound up needing three “generations” on our bargaining team before we signed the tentative agreement in December 2015.

Our first team, active from September through December 2014, consisted of Jen Beckham, Adam Lindberg, Gabrielle Rose, Jhon Wlaschin, myself, and Carol Nieters from SEIU. As our lead negotiator Carol did most of the talking, especially early on, but she made sure that her words reflected our wishes. In similar fashion, the Hamline team, comprised of 6-7 administrators, was led by an outside attorney who did most of the speaking from their side.

We started the fall with by getting trained in “interest-based bargaining” (IBB). Both sides committed a “hybrid” model of bargaining, that would use some IBB sessions to assist us in having more productive traditional bargaining. This meant we would have several sessions of focused dialogue where each side seeks to share their own—and hear the other side’s—respective interests so that when you begin trading proposals in a more traditional bargaining mode you can hopefully craft proposals that create common ground.

Ironically, immediately after this fairly idealistic training we found ourselves mired for eight hours over the next two sessions simply seeking agreement on ground rules for the bargaining process itself, which was rather telling since it should have been accomplished in just an hour or two. Hamline’s outside attorney had a long list of ground rules—far more than Carol had ever seen, and it took us hours to prune them back to an acceptable framework. This was one of several tactics by the administration that, intentionally or otherwise (I say, intentionally), worked to delay our eventual agreement (read: justice) as long as possible.

Finally, in late fall, we commenced actual contract talks. By the end of 2014 we had reached TAs (tentative agreement) on five fairly innocuous articles and had held two pretty good sessions of interest-based dialogue around course assignments. Although we were the only team that had actually organized our thoughts into a formal presentation so we did most of the sharing, the administration team did offer us some helpful insights into both their constraints and their potential to address some of our concerns. We were eager for 2015 to begin and hopeful that we could make steady progress through the remaining non-economic items so that we could focus on the matters that involved money. We were naïve.

As we entered 2015 we fielded our “second generation” bargaining team: Jen Beckham, Andrea Moerer, Gabrielle Rose, John Wlaschin, and me (and Carol, of course). We began with a pair of less encouraging dialogues around professional development and compensation. In both cases we came to the sessions with well-prepared presentations that outlined the contributions we made to Hamline’s learning-driven mission, the challenges we faced as adjunct teacher-scholars, the aspirations we had for improvements, and the way that professional development and better compensation would strengthen Hamline’s goal of teaching excellence and align with Hamline’s mission. Unfortunately, the administration team had not prepared anything to present at all, and their off-the-cuff responses struck all of us as disappointing and almost dismissive.

I say this not to take a cheap shot at the administration after-the-fact. We do have a (soon-to-be-ratified) contract. But our bargaining team—to a person—found our negotiations throughout 2015, both professionally and personally, to be an increasingly brutal experience. Part of the reason I’ve named names here is that everyone on the bargaining team paid for our first contract with their own blood, sweat, and tears—and that deserves to be noted.

Throughout the spring of 2015 we worked toward TAs on the remaining range on non-economic issues. By March we put our opening economic proposal—covering compensation, benefits, and professional development—on the table. We began actively pressing the administration for a response, expressing our desire to complete the contract by the summer. First contracts invariably have a host of fine print; all manner of necessary detail that must be written up from scratch. But it quickly became evident that we wanted a completed deal far sooner than the university did. It took Hamline nearly three months (all the while continuing to chip away at other pieces of the contract) to respond to our economic proposal. As spring moved into summer, the heat in the room rose considerably.

In June Hamline made its first counter offer to our economic proposal. That is, if “zero” even counts as a counter offer. Neither side expected their first economic overture to be embraced by the other side outright. Indeed, part of the unhelpful framework of traditional bargaining is that it requires each side to err on the edge of unrealistic in opening proposals in order to leave room for “realistic” to land somewhere in the middle. Some people might say that an opening counter of zero movement on base compensation is still an opening counter (and some people on the other side of table said precisely that). But after having jointly committed to interest-based dialogue over economic matters, and after the very real effort we invested (and very real risks we took) in our January dialogues, the counter offer we received in June felt EXACTLY like a slap in the face, like it was intended to humiliate and defeat us there and then.

Instead (and much to their evident surprise), we chose resolute anger. Not because any of us on the team were given to quick tempers but because it was by then overwhelmingly clear that, despite Hamline’s proud public commitment to social justice in general, our pursuit of specific concrete justice for adjunct faculty in particular was not a shared venture, but one that rested singularly on our own resolve. No more naiveté for us.

The rest of the summer was spent in hard bargaining. Every dollar we gained, every benefit we bargained for, came slowly. We did make progress toward a professional development fund that will be a real tangible benefit to many in our unit. But on most other fronts, especially around compensation and job security, progress was elusive. The administration bargained from a position that aimed repeatedly to limit every gain to the smallest possible circle of our members. Perhaps it was a subtle attempt to build into the contract a whole series of opportunities for dividing the unit against itself, but I fear the greater truth is that Hamline (at least at this point in negotiations) simply did not value us much at all, and approached bargaining almost solely as a matter of “losses to be limited” rather than seeing us as real assets to the university and thus worth investing in to support our teaching excellence. This perception was amplified by rumors around campus of departmental cutbacks which, coupled with unusually late appointment letters for fall teaching, sent whispers of fear running through our unit.

It was very difficult during those dog days of August not to feel exasperated and cynical. Were it not for Carol’s conviction, purchased across countless negotiations, that our perseverance would eventually pay off—plus the undeniably fierce collegiality we had formed as a bargaining team—we might well have given up before the fall arrived.

But fall did arrive, and with it a third generation bargaining team took its seat at the table: Jen Beckham, Mark Felton, Andrea Moerer, Della Zurick, and me (and, yes, still Carol). Throughout the fall we not only held our ground at the table, we also claimed our ground in the campus community … publicly. We launched an online petition of support, and released a social media video (special kudos to John Wlaschin for his starring role, as well a handful of student in supporting roles). We made buttons, window signs, lawn signs and promoted active displays of union solidarity around campus. We encouraged alumni to call the President and ask Hamline to work for a swift—and fair—contract agreement.

The most attention-getting activity we undertook was a food drive. In partnership with Hamline’s MPIRG student group (with gratitude especially to Wyatt Ehlke and Kayla Farhang) and the assistance of Kyle McGinn, an MFA graduate student, we created an event that put an inescapable visual image—$800 of collected groceries—on the lost value of our wages (per course) over the past decade. Combined with a launch event on Family Weekend that included public words of support from tenured faculty, it was impossible to ignore.

For the first time, because of our increased public presence and in direct counterpoint to our food drive launch, President Miller issued a statement on the union process. Her statement was riddled with half-truth inaccuracies. Rhetorically framed as a call to unity on campus, it was clearly intended to marginalize our voice and discredit our call for justice. By then it didn’t much matter. We had the President’s attention—because we had gained the community’s attention. And we weren’t about to give either of them back. In fact, shortly after the food drive and the President’s campus-wide message, we were invited to address the Hamline Student Congress about our perspective. And a growing number of fulltime tenured faculty reached out vocally or quietly in support.

Bargaining didn’t get easier per se, but the pressure on the administration team to reach agreement was now coming both from us at the bargaining table and from the President’s office and elsewhere. Hamline was increasingly aware of the toll that the negotiations were taking outside the bargaining room. In November both sides began to hint at a willingness to move from simple bargaining to mediation, whereby a federal mediator would try to help move us toward common ground. And in December, with both sides by now steeped in equal measures of weariness, desperation, and stubbornness, we entered mediation.

Wriggling My Toes

It took one short (six-hour) session on December 3 and a marathon (sixteen-hour) session on December 16 that spilled over into the next day to reach the tentative agreement. Mediation was hardly magic. The commissioner assigned to our case used “shuttle diplomacy” carrying open-ended proposals back and forth between rooms, encouraging movement from each side on points where she perceived it might be possible. Still, in our room, at least, tempers flared. We came very close to walking out in anger. Very close. But around 11 p.m. on December 16 it became apparent we were on the edge of tentative agreement. It took a final two hours to solidify and codify that, but we did it before leaving.

Yes, there were handshakes all around at 1 a.m. There were smiles and congratulations, although I suspect on our team that the true feeling was (huge) relief and (major) accomplishment more than celebration. It’s an unfortunate truth that for an entire twelve months in 2015 we felt more stung than anything else by Hamline’s posture. Even the tentative agreement, for all that it does to begin the march toward justice for adjunct faculty, was bargained with a bitter taste in our mouths much of that last evening.

We faced down that bitterness in two ways. As in August, Carol’s steadiness steadied us. Not to say that she didn’t herself grow weary or frustrated, this was a bit less personal, a bit more professional for her. Good thing. Without ever second-guessing or minimizing our frustration and anger, she helped us not walk away in a moment when walking would have put a very justified (though perhaps counter productive) exclamation mark on our reactions.

Beyond this, the five of us adjuncts who were there that day were keenly aware of the depth of our collegiality—and not just with one another, but with most of our unit. Sure, there are some in our unit indifferent to the union, and a handful unhappy that we unionized. But the majority of our peers have been vocal in appreciation. Many times over. Through the struggle to form a union and the long months of bargaining the contract, we became a union not just in a legal sense, but in a real sense. There were only five of us faculty members in the room bargaining that day, but representing five different disciplines, we felt the breadth and the abundance of our gifts, the depth of our convictions, and the yearning of our peers alongside us. It sounds a bit melodramatic, but it was a very full room, crowded with hope enough to hold the bitterness (even though just barely) at bay.

I had one more thing that kept me grounded—and, given that at one point late in the day I unloaded an f-bomb directly at the commissioner (in response to the other team’s actions, not hers!), it’s probably a good thing. Knowing it would be a long and trying day, I had doubled-down and wore two pairs of socks. They were thread bare on the bottom anyway. More importantly, a couple decades ago they were my grandpa’s socks. They represent half of the material inheritance I received from him. I don’t know that he ever wore them to a bargaining session, but I know my grandpa, a tool and die man for forty years, was a longtime union man, active in both local and regional union affairs. He belonged to a different generation and a different profession, but he knew firsthand the power of organizing together for a better deal. My dad grew up into the better deal my grandpa fought for. And every time I wriggled my toes (and there was a lot of wriggling that day), I felt my grandpa’s aspirations right there, inside my shoes, and they helped keep my own aspirations on solid ground.

Justice is never one person’s struggle. Indeed, to succeed, it’s always a struggle shared by many and with roots that run deep. All along, but especially on December 16, that was true for us.

Final Thoughts Before Turning Forward

It’s time now to turn our energy toward building a partnership with the administration for the future, and I look forward to that, though I still believe it could have happened much sooner.

Labor negotiations are framed—societally and structurally—as an adversarial process. But not inevitably. As educators we know that classrooms come complete with social and structural frames that don’t necessarily enhance learning. And the best educators work hard to resist and undo those frames for the sake of learning. I believe that on the whole we, on the adjunct faculty team, worked passionately and creatively (at times stretching the comfort level of Carol’s union sensibilities) to resist and undo the adversarial frame of negotiations for the sake of pursuing worker justice and teaching excellence.

From my perspective, the administration unfortunately chose to stay “in frame” throughout negotiations, and right up through securing a tentative agreement. I have no way of knowing (and no desire to guess) whether that was a choice made by the administrators in the room or by persons outside the room. But I don’t think the posture served anyone well—except Hamline’s outside attorney, whose billing time multiplied tremendously as a result. But it didn’t benefit students, faculty, administration, or the school as a whole. It prolonged the process and strained important relationships far beyond what was inevitable.

Again, this isn’t sour grapes. We have a contract, and a decent one at that. But our best chances to move forward from here will be aided not by glossed over nostalgia but by honest clarity about the past. There were better options available to us, and in this first go-round, the institution lacked the imagination and the courage to embrace them.

Our team, from the first session of training to the final exasperation at the edge of tentative agreement, had hoped to meet in the administration team willing and imaginative partners in thinking outside the frame toward a future for higher education where the affordability of teaching excellence does not hinge on the exploitation of adjunct faculty. We did not meet that team. Ever. Nonetheless, our first contract, hard-won, is a first step toward justice. And the first step is often the most difficult.

I hope it’s also a step that invites the administration to join us now as eager and enthused partners in fostering a university community where both budget priorities and campus culture support Hamline’s mission to pursue social justice and teaching excellence not as competing goals but as one interwoven reality.

I, for one, am more than ready for that venture.

*          *          *

David R. Weiss is the author of When God Was a Little Girl, a playfully profound and slyly subversive children’s picture book (Beaver’s Pond Press, 2013, now ACTA Publications, 2015; www.WhenGodWasaLittleGirl.com) as well asTo the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, Langdon Street Press). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, David is committed to doing “public theology” around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. He lives in St. Paul and speaks on college campuses and at church and community events. You can reach him at drw59mn@gmail.com and read more at www.ToTheTune.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.”

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Regarding the Hamline Adjunct Faculty Union

Friday afternoon our Hamline Adjunct Faculty Union launched a food drive to dramatize the $800 of of lost buying power as a result of the pay for most adjunct positions at Hamline having gone unchanged for more than a decade. This comes after fourteen months of bargaining toward a first union contract and finding our progress mired by very little movement on the University’s part around the economic concerns in the contract. The food drive is one part of our campaign to raise awareness and bring pressure to bear on the University to reach a contract that reflects Hamline’s proud commitment to social justice. Simultaneous with our food drive kick-off (indeed while about 25 of us were gathered for this event in Anderson Center), Hamline’s new president, Fayneese Miller sent out an all-campus email addressing the union and the bargaining process—reaching every student, staff, and faculty person at the University. This is my response as steward of our union to the President’s message.

I do not see myself writing in rebuttal so much as in clarification. I am concerned that, because she is quite new to the University and to the history of our union effort, her letter does not fully capture either the issues that led to our forming a union or the vision that motivates the union as we bargain. It would be very unfortunate if the University perception of the union was shaped more by one all-campus email than by voices of those at the center of the union, such as mine.

I have provided a link to President’s Miller message. That’s probably enough context, but if you want a larger picture, this blog post from January 2015 carries my remarks to the administration barging team at that time. And these were my opening and closing remarks at our Food Drive launch.

A Response to President Miller’s All-Campus Message about the Adjunct Faculty Union

(PDF version here)

November 9, 2015IMG_0809
David Weiss, Adjunct Faculty in Religion
Steward for Hamline Adjunct Faculty Union, SEIU Local 284

I appreciate President Miller’s recent message regarding the Hamline Adjunct Faculty Union. Indeed, as she says, “we make the road by walking.” As part of that road-making venture—and as steward for the Adjunct Faculty Union—I want to respond to her message.

The Adjunct Faculty Union is not seeking to be divisive. We are not interested in playing one valued part of this community off against the other. We are asking for voices to stand with us. We are actively and aggressively bargaining in the direction of justice from our end. And we are convinced that the stronger our contract is, the stronger Hamline’s mission, vision, and values become.

We are extremely grateful for any and every voice in the Hamline community that joins us, because on the day that the President, the Board of Trustees, the faculty, the staff, and/or the students say with unmistakable clarity, we expect our adjunct faculty to be included in Hamline’s vision of social justice, and we expect the bargaining process to imagine a way that accomplishes this—it will.

I cannot address everything in the President’s message; there are some statements she makes that I don’t have access to the data that would allow me to respond. But there are several points I can address:

  1. The President begins, “As many of you are aware, SEIU, a labor union (“Union”) organized certain members of our undergraduate adjunct faculty last year.”

It is true that SEIU assisted in our organizing efforts; in fact, we could not file for a union election without SEIU filing the petition on our behalf. But it would be wrong to characterize our union as some sort of entity from outside Hamline. Our union is comprised entirely of adjunct faculty here at Hamline. Nearly 80% of those eligible to vote on the union did, and a resounding 80% of those who voted, voted “yes.” The adjunct faculty on our bargaining team set our bargaining agenda, approve every offer we extend to the administration bargaining team, and assess every counter-offer we receive from them. SEIU offers excellent counsel and a strong negotiator to our team. But adjunct faculty, all with strong ties to Hamline, lead our union.

  1. The Presidents writes, “it has come to our attention that the Union is engaging in activities meant to pull our students, full-time faculty, and staff into their efforts to put pressure on the University for an agreement on their terms. I understand, in particular, that the Union is seeking to apply pressure on the University to provide a level of compensation to our adjunct faculty that, frankly, may not be in the best interest of the University or the University community as a whole.”

Yes, we are seeking to bring the pressure of others to bear on the University, but we have always asked people to request that the University settle a contract with us that is “fair,” that “truly reflects Hamline’s mission and values.” We are not demanding an agreement “on our terms.” We are negotiating for an agreement that asks Hamline to live up to its terms. We have been absolutely clear about this from the very beginning. And while we cannot bargain a contract for the entire Hamline community, our aspiration is for an entire community for whom social justice, civic responsibility, and a genuinely collaborative spirit rings true. Of course, that’s a lofty ideal and rarely met, but it is the ideal that guides our union, and we welcome others to join us in its pursuit in every area of university life.

  1. The President writes, “some Union communications apparently suggest 50% of classes are taught by adjunct faculty.”

If we have said that, we misspoke, but I’m not aware of any union communication that makes this claim, and I believe I’ve seen every piece of literature we’ve produced. But this can be a tricky statistic. It seems to be true (this is one place I don’t have access to full data) that about 50% of the actual bodies that teach undergraduates at Hamline belong to adjuncts. The Star Tribune reported this in its March 31, 2014 news story on adjunct faculty. We don’t teach anywhere close to half the classes, but we do comprise, more or less, half the bodies. It’s certainly possible that someone somewhere, either while listening or while speaking, confused bodies for classes, but we have never intentionally done so.

  1. The President states, “Hamline already compensates its adjunct faculty at a competitive rate that is about in the middle of the range for adjunct faculty among schools (like Hamline) that are within the Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities.”

This is, at best, a misleading claim; by most measures it is plainly inaccurate. Since we organized our union in Spring 2014 we have record of 188 adjuncts who have taught one or more courses for Hamline over the past two years. Of those, 135 adjuncts (72%) make $4000/course, which is ROCK BOTTOM for the ACTC schools. True, our average adjunct pay (approximately $4300/course—a figure gained by averaging in the 28% who make more than $4000/course) is “middle range,” but even this stretches the “middle.” St. Kate’s and Augsburg range from $4000-$4200/course, while St. Thomas is above $5000/course and Macalester is above $5500/course. Even our average is low middle at best and, more accurately, just barely at the top of the bottom. But for nearly three-quarters of our unit, their pay per course is the lowest pay for any of the ACTC schools.

  1. The President asserts, “the compensation proposals we’ve now put forward to the Union at the bargaining table contemplate a double-digit percentage increase in the base compensation rate for our undergraduate adjuncts.”

She’s right, but this overplays the digits while ignoring the losses. Hamline’s initial offer was for a zero increase in base pay, a proposal they presented to us and called “competitively fair.” They have not come quickly or easily to their current offer of a 10% increase in base pay. But even this apparently generous offer fails to address the fact that after going eleven years without any raise of any sort, our $4000 base salary has lost 21% of its value. So the current best offer from the University does not even replace half of the lost buying power for those in the Hamline community whose pay is already at or near the lowest, whose employment carries no health, retirement or other benefit, and whose work comes with no real predictability. This is especially true for those who teach in the College of Liberal Arts (CLA).

While the President is correct that some faculty in the Schools of Business and Education have received raises to above $4000/course, almost every adjunct professor in CLA—and especially in the Humanities is at $4000/course. And these persons are the ones most likely not to have a fulltime job outside academia. These persons are often the ones who, driven by passion for scholarship, teaching, or art, cobble together teaching positions across multiple campuses or weave together a variety of other jobs—so that they can teach in places like Hamline. And they have been the ones that Hamline has most consistently neglected.

  1. The President writes, “We must balance the Union’s interest in, and persistent demands for, further increases to our proposals for adjunct compensation with the interests and needs of our full-time faculty, the University staff, and, of course, our students.”

This is, of course, true, but it implies a far greater falsehood by pitting each legitimate and valued group of persons against each other in a seemingly closed system. The shrinking share of the overall budget devoted to instruction cannot be ignored. Likewise, the debts incurred by Anderson Center, the St. Louis Park campus, and the Summit mansion are all choices that have consequences for actual human beings. Yes, a university budget is extraordinarily complex, but it is misleading to suggest that there is only one pie and that a bigger slice for one group requires “wage theft” from another. There are other pies. And while that doesn’t automatically make for an easy solution, it does allow for a far wider range of creative problem-solving than the one the President frames—which can only ever precipitate conflict among the hard-working members of the Hamline community. We can do better. The recent statement from the Minnesota AAUP Executive Committee on Principles of One Faculty offers a thoughtful call to conversation and advocacy in this regard.

Far from the President’s suggestion that the union’s “interests … and persistent demands” will come at the expense of others in our community, there is a long historical track record demonstrating that unions strengthen the socio-economic fabric of communities for everyone.

From the very first meeting between our organizing committee and then Provost Eric Jensen and several deans, including now Interim Provost John Matachek, on May 13, 2014 (well before we our union vote and before I was steward), I stated my conviction that we were committed to a union process that produced a healthy partnership with Hamline, one that forged a new path into a bright future. I was unequivocal that day in those convictions, and I have not wavered in them since. My peers on the bargaining team, my colleagues at SEIU, and even the members of the administration team will have to acknowledge (and some in each group would do so with mild annoyance at times) that I have been relentlessly hopeful. Relentlessly.

And I still am.

President Miller is right, bargaining is a challenging process—and first contracts are often most challenging of all. But the biggest challenge we face in bargaining at present is not a matter of dollars, nor is it a matter of good faith. It is the question of whether Hamline has the audacity to bargain in the direction of social justice.

Thank you,
David Weiss

HUNGRY FOR JUSTICE copy

Union Update: Getting to ZERO.

Friends, as many of you know, last spring I helped organize the adjunct (part-time) faculty at Hamline University. Last June (exactly one year ago), we voted overwhelmingly–about 77% “yes”–to form a union. In August I was elected our first steward. Since the past fall I’ve been part of the bargaining team negotiating for a first contract.

It’s been a long slow crawl. Between complicated scheduling and the administration’s insistence on settling (at least by way of “tentative agreement”) the multitude of non-economic issues in the contract, it’s taken us nine months to reach the day when they put their first economic proposal on the table. That’s the subject of the “Union Stew” steward message that appears below.

First, a bit of context. Over the past decade the compensation for adjunct faculty at Hamline has gone unchanged. It varies a wee bit from school to school and by discipline, but while costs around us rise, pay has been flat. In my case, that means $4000/course for ten years running. It means my compensation has lost 20% of its buying power as it has fallen behind the cost of living. It means I’ve taken an effective pay cut of $800/course.

During that same time, tuition at Hamline has increased by 50%, and the president’s pay has jumped (in the same ten year period) from around $290,000/year to around $560,000/year. That’s right, her pay has practically doubled to more than half-a-million dollars, while no money has been available to give adjuncts even a cost of living increase. In fact, when President Hanson announced her decision to retire last spring, the chair of the Board of Trustree lauded her by saying, “The university is in good financial condition—under President Hanson’s leadership, over $70M has been raised and our endowment has grown to over $90M, an all time high.” But not a penny was set aside to increase adjunct pay.

Perhaps it’s no wonder we voted to form a union. Now you’re ready to read my most recent message:

The Union Stew #7 – June 17, 2015

David Weiss, Steward for Hamline Adjunct Faculty Union, SEIU Local 284

Dear Hamline Colleagues –

Another brief but urgent update follows. Please read this all the way to the end!

I need to say two things up front, and I need you to hear them both. First, right now I am angry to the point of outrage. Second, I am not done. I hope by the end of this message you can join me in both of these declarations.

Today, with some hard choices over the last handful of phrases at issue, we tentatively concluded our non-economic bargaining. “Tentatively” because all agreements are tentative until the whole package is complete. But having signed off on about two-dozen non-economic articles, the administration finally put their economic proposal on the table today during the last twenty minutes of our bargaining session.

Bargaining, by its very nature, includes the ebb and flow of many small moments of disappointment and frustration, offset by often equally small moments of surprise and elation. Progress, step by step. Today I experienced something new: embarrassment. For Hamline.

I love this school.

It’s been my privilege to teach more than 500 students here over the past decade. And to contribute to Hamline’s rich academic community, both by attending lectures, plays, and music events, and also by bringing several national and international activists to Hamline for events myself. It’s been my joy to work as a colleague alongside Hamline’s many committed faculty and staff, as well as my adjunct peers.

I love Hamline. Not least because it lays claim to a mission, vision, and values that include things like “collaborative community,” “social justice,” “civic responsibility,” and “making a lasting difference in the world.”

All of this is why, today, when the administration set their opening economic proposal on the table I felt embarrassment for this university.

It is “just” their opening proposal. Things will not end here. But they have staked out a beginning place so completely disconnected from their stated principles that I—who have a notorious soft spot for being charitable in my words—find it difficult to name this anything other than betrayal. A betrayal of both of the mission, vision, and values of the university, and also of anything resembling a posture of integrity, towards the teaching mission of Hamline.

I’ve taught here for a decade now—at $4000/course since Fall Term 2005. The purchasing power of that $4000 has dropped by $800 over the last ten years. And this is the opening economic offer made by Hamline today after nine months of negotiating: to leave salary compensation exactly where it has been for ten years. They have the temerity to tell us that we are all worth about $800/course less than we were a decade ago. (Fine print full disclosure: after a $200 “bonus,” those adjuncts who have terminal degrees in their field will be worth only about $600 less per course, and those currently compensated above that base rate will not lose their current salaries.)

Carol Nieters, our SEIU negotiator exclaimed in disbelief, “After a decade of no increase in pay, you’re going to propose leaving salaries where they currently are?!” I added, “Honestly, after nine months of working to build trust and common understanding this feels like a slap in the face.” Their response was to say they believe their proposal is “competitively fair” and “in line with the market” in this area. But let me add, none of the administrators in the room made eye contact with us while these words were uttered.

So, right now I am outraged. But I am not done. This first proposal is not where we will end up, but it does reveal how little respect the administration actually has for us. And we will need to alter that. And by “we,” I mean all of you, and your students, and Hamline alumni and parents, and anyone who is concerned for the future of higher education in our communities. Please sit up and take notice. We need you to help Hamline see the gap between their actions at the bargaining table and the ideals they claim. One way is to sign the petition of support. Another is to share this message or the link to the petition with your family, friends, and others who will be supportive. Share it widely! If we can show Hamline a groundswell of support for a bargaining posture that actually reflects their aspirations and values, it may give them the inspiration they need to act from the ideals they claim.

We became a union because alone, we cannot begin to challenge injustice like this. But together, we can—and we will—make a lasting difference in the world … beginning right here at Hamline.

I continue to be yours, in service—tonight: angry, outraged, and just getting warmed up.

David

David Weiss (drw59mn@gmail.com) is steward for Hamline University’s Adjunct Faculty Union, SEIU Local 284.

 

Interested in my earlier blog posts on our union efforts? Here they are:
May 2014: When Words Fail Us
May 2014: Those Darned Socks
June 2014: Open Letter to My Colleagues
January 2015: Bargaining for Justice

Bargaining for Justice: Hamline … and Hope

Bargaining for Justice: Hamline … and Hope
David R. Weiss

On Wednesday, January 7, I had the opportunity to address the Hamline University administration negotiating team as part of our “exploratory dialogue” that will be a prelude to actual bargaining over compensation and benefits for adjunct faculty. These were my words:

I need to say two things at the start:

FIRST – Even though I wouldn’t say I’ve become “chums” with any of you on the other side of the table, I will say that I’ve come to regard you much more as colleagues than as nameless and faceless adversaries. I’m genuinely glad when I see you around campus and can exchange a greeting. So beyond simply bargaining in good faith, I can say that I hold a great deal of good will toward each of you.

SECOND – in the midst of this good will, my job today is to make you squirm. My strong conviction is that Hamline’s treatment of adjunct faculty has been both unjust and out of line with Hamline’s mission, values, and vision. This isn’t exactly your individual or collective faults, but you’re the folks that the administration has put in this room, and so it falls to you to hear what it falls to me to say.

I want to begin with an image I often invoke at the start of my Introduction to Religion class: the animated kids’ film, Madagascar. Some of you may have seen it thanks to your children or grandchildren. It’s basically a comedy-adventure movie with talking animals featuring in particular the antics of a talking lion, giraffe, hippo, and zebra, who, through a series of misadventures find themselves relocated from a city zoo to the island of Madagascar. The giraffe, hippo, and zebra, all herbivores, find Madagascar a relative buffet of edible delights. But the lion, whose food has always arrived in steak form, suddenly begins looking at his friends … and seeing meat.

Fast forward to the end of the movie and the crisis is resolved when the animals discover that the lion can survive by eating fish. And the fish in Madagascar, quite unlike those in Finding Nemo, don’t talk. Lacking any lines (they’re the only animals in the entire film that aren’t personified with speech) they never become full characters, which leaves them, quite literally, fair game for resolving this crisis. The point I make in my religion class is that whenever a category of people—women, persons of other faith traditions, persons of color, LGBT persons—lack a voice in a community, they easily become expendable in times of crisis and the larger community barely notices. And until very recently at Hamline, adjunct faculty have been like those fish: without a voice, our fortunes rendered expendable.

But the health of the Hamline community as a whole—both at the level of our mission, values, and vision and also at the level of our culture as an academic community of liberal education—hinges not on those in the administration taking better care of us, but on the creation of conditions under which our voices are heard and honored with as much respect by the administration as you believe they should be heard and honored by our students in the classroom. Our claiming our voice through a union may be a bureaucratic nightmare and an economic inconvenience to you, but it is an essential step in Hamline becoming the academic community it aspires to be.

The Hamline that is “marketed” to prospective students is the Hamline of our mission, values, and vision. It is a Hamline that adjunct faculty play an essential role in helping achieve—and a Hamline in which adjunct faculty live a sort of apartheid existence.

We are absolutely vital in your ability to deliver what you promise to students: a top-notch education in which they are taught by some of the best teachers available; and equipped to both lead and serve in ways inspired by an ethic of social justice. You could not do that without us, and yet we operate in a system that names us among the best teachers available when selling Hamline to students … then values us as the cheapest minds money can buy on the open market when payday arrives. We find ourselves aiming to instill in our students that ethic of social justice so prized by Hamline, while knowing that this very ethic does not shape our well-being.

Our treatment by Hamline has been dictated primarily by market forces that go unmentioned in our mission, values, and vision—because while such forces may be realities that we need to contend with, they do not deserve the privilege of being ideals that guide us—except that with respect to adjunct faculty they do.

Obviously, Hamline’s mission, values, and vision weren’t written with only adjunct faculty in mind, but unless you want to make the case that Hamline never intended for these ideals to encompass those of us who labor alongside you to help our students succeed, there are places in these ideals where the gap between ideal and reality has reached a breaking point:

  1. Our mission commits us to creating a “community of learners” and this phrase doesn’t refer just to students, but to all members of the community who assist in shaping the students we serve. So we, who are adjunct faculty, are part of the diverse and collaborative community of learners. We inhabit Hamline’s mission, too.
  1. Our values call for “personal and collective effort” that aims to “make a lasting difference in the world”—a difference we specify as “aspiring to the highest standards for:” [among other things] … “An individual and community ethic of social justice, civic responsibility, and inclusive leadership and service.
  1. Finally, our vision is that others will recognize us as being “actively inclusive,” “locally engaged,” and “invested in the personal and professional growth of persons.” Well, that’s pretty much our agenda as unionized faculty.

Unfortunately these aspects of Hamline’s mission, values, and vision have simply not been true with respect to our adjunct faculty for quite some time now. But the good news—as I suggested back on May 13 when we first met with several of you in the provost’s conference room—is that even this moment of cognitive dissonance between our University’s aspirations and its present realities is an opportunity to imagine new ways of being a university. In fact, on the same web page where Hamline declares its mission, values, and value, the University also declares:

Hamline University’s mission statement, values, and vision are not something that exist in words alone.

You can find them in the values that guide our education, in the way our community comes together, and in our professors, leaders, staff, alumni, and students’ hearts.

They are not static. Rather, they are continually active, guiding us in what we do, whether it is creating new programs, erecting new buildings, or charting a course into our next 150 years.

We’re here today precisely to put that mission, values, and vision to work in charting a new course as we move—together—into Hamline’s next 150 years.

So let me offer a few concrete examples of the ideals and realities that we need to wrestle with. I’m going to talk about myself, not because I’m unique, but because it seems only fair to use myself as the example I know best. Each adjunct faculty has their story, their own experience. And, at least some of them would be in stark contrast to mine. But we won our union with better than a 75% vote because my experience is more representative than not.

I am a fully invested member of the Hamline community. My immediate colleagues in Religion would consider me a minor fixture in the department over the past decade. I was hired by Tim Polk to teach my first class in Fall 2004. I’ve taught successively under Tim, Deanna Thompson, and now Mark Berkson as department chairs.

Like many adjuncts, I’ve juggled teaching assignments across multiple campuses over the years. I’ve taught at Augsburg and St. Kate’s besides here. Over the eleven years I’ve been an adjunct instructor, I’ve taught 34 courses for those three schools. When I teach at Hamline I typically have 50-55 students in a class. I have their names memorized by the second or third day of class so I can call on them by name. Teaching is a significant part of my work time, a significant part of my income, and a significant aspect of my vocation.

Beyond my teaching, I’ve been an active in Hamline’s academic community. I’ve attended Religion department colloquia and end of the year gatherings when possible. I’ve attended the Mahle “progressive theology” lecture several times, and have participated in faculty-staff book groups. I encourage my students to join in Hamline’s intellectual life, regularly identifying campus events worth their time and offering a gentle incentive to attend them.

Over the past three years I’ve played the lead role in four campus events:

  • In August 2012 I got funding from the Religion Department, the Wesley Center, the Hedgeman Center, and ten local churches to bring a nationally regarded LGBT performance artist to Sundin Music Hall.
  • In October 2013 I got funding from the Religion Department, the Wesley Center, the Social Justice Program, the Sociology Department, and the Stonewall Alliance of the Law School to host a speaker on LGBT rights from Uganda.
  • And in March 2014, I pulled together funding from the Religion Department, the Wesley Center, the Hedgeman Center, the Social Justice Program, the Sociology Department, the Hamline African Student Association, Stonewall Alliance, the Law School Library, the Law School’s American Constitutional Society and the Hamline Public Interest Law Community to sponsor a screening of an award-winning film about LGBT persons in Uganda and a talk by one of the LGBT activists featured in the film in Sundin Music Hall.

I was the catalyst for these events because I’m passionate about broadening our worldviews, and because I believe that campuses like Hamline are precisely places that life-changing learning can happen, and because over a decade of being connected to Hamline, albeit only as an adjunct instructor, I’ve been eager to foster connections that help Hamline be the type of learning community that our mission, values, and vision speak of.

None of that work – and it represents hours upon hours upon hours … of work – none of it is covered by my teaching salary. But it reflects my investment in Hamline’s community. And it is part of what bewilders me about Hamline’s reluctance to invest equally in me or in my adjunct colleagues who make myriad similarly unsung contributions to our common life as an academic community. The bottom line is that adjunct faculty help make Hamline a vibrant community. And while we have been – of late, at least – pretty consistently praised for our contributions to Hamline, for the past decade or more we have been singularly neglected with anything other than words.

From 2005 to 2014, for ten consecutive years, my pay as an adjunct at Hamline has remained absolutely flat. $4000. No merit increase. No recognition of experience gained during that time. No acknowledgement of contributions to the Hamline community. And no cost of living adjustment. During that same decade we know that Hamline managed to raise the President’s salary from $250,000 all the way to the half-million mark. But never found a penny to increase pay for the majority of adjunct faculty. That’s what happens when you’re fish, without a voice.

We know that, overall, fulltime faculty have seen their salaries remain relatively flat. That may be true of most Hamline employees, but seems not to have been the case with Hamline’s highest tier employees. And here’s the rub – both as a matter of principle and a matter of practicality – there is simply no way to justify – under a professed commitment to an ethic of social justice – the consistent increase of the highest salaries alongside the consistent neglect of the lowest salaries.

I make less than $20,000/year. I don’t complain about that, because almost everything I do rather directly makes the world a better place. I’m not in this (teaching or otherwise) to get rich. But, just like all of you, I work long hours. And at $20,000/year, when I earn $4000 to teach a class, every penny of that goes into my immediate living expenses. It buys groceries; it pays the utilities; it goes toward the mortgage, the student loan (and my children’s student loans).

And when that $4000 stays absolutely flat over a decade, it means that today it buys at least 20% LESS groceries. It means that the vast majority of my colleagues and I – living on budgets with far less wiggle room than any of you – have been expected to take functional pay cuts year after year after year, while continuing to inspire our students to aim for an ethic of social justice that our university touts but does not apply in our direction.

I don’t doubt that some of you, and that many of our fulltime faculty colleagues, have needed to adjust spending priorities over the past decade. But what I am saying as starkly as possible is that for those of us at the bottom of the pay scale, those adjustments are not made in discretionary spending. They’re made in day-to-day living expenses. At the grocery store. I’d challenge each of you, for the next month or two, every time you unpack the groceries in your home, ask yourself which 20% you would choose to do without. Because those of the type of choices we’ve had to make for the past decade now.

There are, without question, in our bargaining unit a handful of professionals for whom the adjunct teaching salary at Hamline is simply a footnote in a six-figure income from other sources. But those persons are the rare exception. For most of us, the pay we make as adjunct faculty IS the major source of our income … or IS the primary place we utilize the skills we gained through advanced degrees. And at present, both the level of our pay and it’s stagnation are at dire odds with the ideals of Hamline, with the recognition due the expertise we have, and with the practical demands of our lives.

When we present our pay proposal I hope you can recognize that we are not asking for the moon. But we will be asking for real recognition of our training and our teaching, real recognition of our value in the vibrancy of Hamline’s community, and real recognition of the day-to-day costs that our salaries need to cover. And – we will be asking for Hamline to make good on its pledge that the mission, values, and vision of this university exist in something deeper than words.

Almost done.

We will also ask for participation in Hamline’s retirement plan. I hope I’ve said enough to suggest why we might deserve that. Let me just put a couple figures on why we NEED that.

After two years of teaching as a graduate student, seven years of full-time college employment (with benefits), and eleven years of teaching as an adjunct (without benefits) … sometime in 2014 – just in the last twelve months – my retirement savings in my TIAA-CREF account, now at $38,329 finally surpassed the outstanding balance on my student loans, now shrunk to $33,940.

Think about that. I’m in higher education, teaching at the college level, because I have the training, the skill, and the passion to do so. I’m 55 years old, and after twenty years of teaching … I have $38,000 set aside for my retirement. Is it fair to think that an active commitment to an ethic of social justice might include Hamline making a commitment to the retirement of those of us who help make Hamline a success even as adjunct faculty? I hope so.

Adjunct faculty, of course, have no insurance coverage through Hamline. Still, our day-to-day presence in the classroom to teach depends on our health no less than does your day-to-day presence in your jobs. And it is sometimes no less challenging.

In the fall of 2012, for eight weeks, I taught Introduction to Religion to 50 students through a long bout with kidney stones. Originally misdiagnosed as a UTI, then as an inflamed prostate, on 3 or 4 occasions I taught in discomfort so severe that I couldn’t stand in class, so I sat on a stool to teach. One day I cancelled class altogether. But there are no sick days allotted for adjuncts. There is no medical leave. And this was my class; these were my students. So I taught through the pain. It’s not really a big deal – although at the time it was excruciating. And, given that I was making the same $4000 per course that I’d been making for the previous eight years, it was perhaps a remarkable display of commitment to my craft.

It is, moreover, a reminder that my ability to help Hamline succeed in its mission is as fragile as yours. And can be just as costly. The first week of December 2012, right before finals, I needed surgery to remove two kidney stones, one of which had entirely blocked my right kidney. My total bill for that half-day out-patient surgery at United Hospital was $21,690.94.

$21,690.94. The City of Minneapolis, where my wife works, covered almost all of it, as I was fortunate to have insurance coverage through her. Not every adjunct is so fortunate. But when Hamline reaps the benefit of my teaching – even on days that my health is far from ideal – is it fair to think that an active commitment to an ethic of social justice might include Hamline making a contribution to the health care costs of those of us who help make Hamline a success even as adjunct faculty? I hope so.

In conclusion, my story is uniquely mine, but among my adjunct colleagues, my training and skill is hardly unique, my commitment and giftedness is hardly unique, my contribution to Hamline’s success is hardly unique. And my hunger for a Hamline that adopts policies toward adjunct faculty that echo the ideals it aspires to, that hunger is far from unique.

But please hear me, because I am full of HOPE. We have the opportunity, here in this room, to imagine for Hamline a future that can be both just and sustainable for all of us. Offering us pay that is fair and benefits that respect the realities of our lives is not a threat to Hamline’s mission of education – in fact, it is fundamental to its achievement.

*          *          *

Open Letter to my Adjunct Colleagues

Note: ballots went out Thursday night; they’ll be counted on June 20th.

An Open Letter to my Adjunct Colleagues
David R. Weiss / Adjunct Faculty – Religion
June 6, 2014

Dear friends:

Like me, you probably received one more impassioned entreaty from the Provost yesterday. He wants to use our efforts at unionization as a “wake-up call” that he can turn into a “win-win” situation for everyone at Hamline … without a union. He asks us to “vote ‘no’ for now,” and give him the chance to show us that life can become a whole lot better without bringing a union into the picture. He even reminds us we can always vote to unionize next year if we aren’t pleased with his efforts by then.

It all sounds way more comfortable than venturing into the unknown territory of a union. But this is NOT the moment to lose your resolve – and not just because we are so close to winning this election (and we are).

So why not give the Provost one more chance?

Because this is how power always responds to the real threat that it may lose power. Sometimes it lashes out brutally – thankfully, we haven’t experienced that (at least not yet). Sometimes, as now, it tries to bargain for continued power by offering a whole parade of hopes. But power’s #1 objective is NOT to help us; it’s to hold on to power. And it will play on our fears and leverage our hopes however it can to keep us from laying claim to a share of power.

This isn’t really about the Provost. I respect him. I have no reason to mistrust him personally. But this isn’t personal. This is power talking in that letter. His words are fashioned within a system that knows only that a union – which gives us a collective voice to play an active and empowered role in our own destiny at Hamline – is a threat to the ways things are.

The other option is that the Provost is being intentionally disingenuous – employing half-truths and actively hoping to mislead you into voting against your own best interest (and, in truth, against Hamline’s long-term best interest as well). I choose NOT to think the Provost is doing that. I believe instead that his words are the best he can muster when tethered to a system of power that willfully misshapes things in order to preserve itself.

He says he’d rather negotiate with us one-on-one than bargain with an “intermediary.” But hardly any of us stands a chance at negotiating a real gain one-on-one. That’s a sure-fire plan to disempower us one … by … one. And the administration will not be bargaining with an “intermediary.” They’ll be bargaining with us – united, collective, empowered: US. In fact, a union is not a “restrictive barrier” which will get in the way of real progress. It is rather our collective voice, and it can insure that our hopes are named and heard and bargained for.

He highlights the decision by Macalester contingent faculty to delay their vote, as though that decision is a road map for us. It isn’t. Never was. And shouldn’t be. Without going into everything, the conditions among Mac faculty are quite different than ours and incredibly diverse among themselves, from fulltime contingents at full salary with benefits across multi-year contracts (but no option for tenure) to course-by-course adjuncts with no benefits at all. We are far from a homogeneous group ourselves, but we are ALL part-time, without benefits. Overall our conditions are significantly different than at Macalester, and we gain far more by standing together now than we will by letting the Provost delay any progress for a year or more.

He says that the key to a making progress on the “important issues affecting adjunct faculty” is “working directly together.” But this is exactly what a union gives us the power to do. Without a union our “working together” will be entirely on the administration’s terms and exactly to the extent they deem convenient or practical. There is nothing that prevents the administration from working directly with us on the far side of a successful union vote. In fact, that is exactly what will happen: once we are unionized, the administration will work directly with us – collectively. But having a union insures that when we (because the union is US) sit down at the table to discuss these important issues, there is an undeniable measure of partnership at the table.

Every attempt to cajole us into waiting for a year (which honestly hopes to make us wait forever) has one primary purpose: to preserve power for the administration. Remember that.

The most telling part of the Provost’s letter is the tone – which comes very close to a threat without ever actually making one. But he suggests repeatedly that we will be “happy” with how the administration treats us IF WE VOTE ‘NO’, all the while implying that, if we vote ‘yes,’ the administration cannot imagine cooperation, collaboration, or a sincere desire to improve our circumstances among its repertoire of responses to a union. How disappointing is that!

However, that insinuation – that implied threat – far from being a reason to rethink our course of action is the clearest signal that only this course of action will really shift the balance of power in our interest.

Again, this is not a personal attack on the Provost, but rather a statement of deep conviction about the dynamics of power: how it is held and how that is changed. Frederick Douglass put it this way: “There is no progress without struggle. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle.” Put that on your mirror to greet you in the morning.

This vote is our struggle. It has untold value not only for ourselves, but for our students, our faculty colleagues, and for Hamline as a whole. It is a vote to claim our place and our voice in Hamline’s community, not as oppositional to the administration but as for our students and for Hamline’s best future.

I urge you, vote YES, not just for now, but for a better tomorrow – for all of us (including, although he may not yet be able to see it, the Provost!).

Sincerely,
David Weiss / Adjunct Faculty – Religion

 

 

Those darned socks

Those darned socks
May 8, 2014
David R. Weiss

Let me tell you about my socks. Dark blue, argyle pattern, and—as I noticed when pulling them on this morning—darned. Holes in each toe patched with a cross-weave of threads. They were darned two decades ago; heck, they were new probably three decades ago. So, because I want them to last, I only bring them out for special occasions.

Now let me tell you about my Grandpa. After holding a variety of jobs as young man, he was a tool and die maker for about the last forty years of his career. Besides this, he was a strong union man. He knew first hand the struggles of labor, and he believed in unions and was active in his own union’s leadership. He retired proud of his trade and equally proud of his work for worker justice. He and my Grandma lived frugally; they weren’t poor by any measure, but they certainly didn’t keep up with the Joneses either.

When my Grandpa died in 1997 there wasn’t a great deal to split up among the family. I got to pick out two of his neckties (which I no longer wear since I opted for all-casual-all-the-time some years back) and three pair of his argyle—and already darned—socks.

I wore those darned socks today to our meet-and-greet with other adjunct faculty working to unionize at Hamline. My working conditions are far different than my Grandpa’s, but it’s the same struggle to have a voice in a setting where management is too easily corrupted by the temptation to cut corners on those whose voices are most removed from power. I won’t pretend that I exactly stand in his shoes some seventy years after he joined his union. But today I did stand in his socks—and I could see his smile and the twinkle in his eyes.

And the day we gather to announce that we have won a union, well, I’ll put on those darned socks once again. Whose knows, I may even button my top button for the first time in well over a decade and pull out one of those neckties.

 

To read another post about my union efforts, see “When Words Fail Us.”

 

 

When words fail us: the administration’s rhetoric on adjuncts seeking a union is sorely lacking

When words fail us: the administration’s rhetoric on adjuncts seeking a union is sorely lacking
May 7, 2014
David R. Weiss
Adjunct Instructor in Religion

Note: the views expressed below are my personal views; they are not intended to speak on behalf of the organizing committee at Hamline. However, if you’d like to stand with us, sign the petition here, which is open to anyone within or beyond the Hamline community.

Over the past two days, both Provost Jensen and President Hanson have addressed the issue of adjuncts seeking to organize a union for themselves at Hamline. Both of them encourage us to have a community conversation around this issue, and I commend them for that. Unfortunately, some of their other remarks seem determined to frame the conversation on terms that are not quite fair or forthcoming.

So, in the interest of joining the conversation, I’d like to speak to their remarks.

Provost Jensen notes, “According to its website, SEIU [the union supporting our efforts] is focused on workers in three sectors: healthcare, property services, and public services.” I suppose we should be a bit embarrassed as university faculty to be organizing ourselves alongside home health care workers, janitors, and bus drivers. But each of these professions has its own dignity and in a diverse community we are wise to honor each one. Moreover, I bet not one worker in any of those professions, if represented by SEIU, has gone nine years without a pay increase. I have. So who am I—or who is the Provost—to suggest that SEIU is not a good union to work with? Frankly, I am proud to be organizing in the good company of people who simply seek a fair wage for honest work.

Moreover, the same website—in fact, the same page that the Provost quotes from—says, that SEIU members are “united by the belief in the dignity and worth of workers and the services they provide and dedicated to improving the lives of workers and their families and creating a more just and humane society.” Sounds like a group of folks quite in touch with Hamline’s professed values!

I appreciate Provost Jensen’s regard for the “collaborative and communicative environment at Hamline.” Those of us organizing a union are eager to engage in this collaborative process; we simply believe—borne of long experience both at Hamline and at other institutions—that claiming a collective voice is the best way for us to enter this process. We reject any assertion that having a union forces us into an adversarial posture. It allows us to enter the conversation with a measure of equality that it utterly beyond us when we speak only as individuals. We have been ignored, overlooked, unheard as an entire category of faculty at Hamline. We choose to embrace a collective voice because it offers us the best chance to be heard.

Both the Provost and the President are unduly—and inaccurately—concerned about the sudden presence of “third party representation” in our campus culture. When we win this union and begin contract negotiations, we will represent ourselves. The people who sit down at the bargaining table will be elected from among our adjunct peers. We will be able to seek advice and counsel from SEIU—or from other unionized adjuncts at other colleges and universities—but “third part representation” misrepresents what a union does. It gives us the platform to speak for ourselves, to take our rightful place in the conversation amid the culture we already know and treasure.

President Hanson’s message speaks of being “careful stewards of our financial resources” and “guided by values of fairness” and wanting to “ensure the appropriate use of tuition dollars.” Here are some hard numbers to wrestle with. In 2005-06 tuition at Hamline was $23,130; this year it’s $34,570—almost exactly a 50% increase. I taught at Hamline during the 2005-06 school year. I was paid $4000 for one course. Today, after tuition has soared by 49.4%, I make … still $4000 per course. Not a penny of those tuition increases trickled down to me (or to almost any other adjunct). Meanwhile, President Hanson earned “about $300,000” back in 2005-06. By 2012 (the last public data I could find) her salary had risen to $516,000—better than a 70% increase. I fully understand that the linkage between tuition dollars and salaries, whether for adjunct faculty or university presidents, is a complex relationship. But believe me when I say that I would welcome a conversation about being “careful stewards … of tuition dollars.”

Looked at another way, the 56 students in my Introduction to Religion class each pay roughly $4300 in tuition to take my class and learn from me this semester. Altogether, they pay $240,000 to Hamline just to take my class. That works out to about $105 from each student for each day they set foot in my classroom. But only about $1.75 of each student’s tuition reaches me for each day I teach them (and that covers all of my prep time and grading time in between classes, too). Each adjunct’s reality is different, but my actual teaching costs each student each day less than a cup of cheap coffee at Starbucks. And, again, I know it’s more complicated than the cost of a cup of coffee, but it’s difficult not to swallow hard at those numbers.

During my time organizing adjuncts I’ve had conversations with a couple dozen of my peers. I can tell you that every single adjunct I’ve spoken with has, as President Hanson hopes, the “best interests of our students” in the forefront of our minds. It’s what keeps us here despite the poor conditions. Seeking better pay, a measure of job security, and access to some benefits are not matters of selfish self-interest; they are tangible evidence that the university is indeed “invested in the personal and professional growth of persons” as our vision statement proclaims. Such basic recognition of our value in the university’s educational mission is one way the university attests to the value it places on the student experience. Indeed, again to echo President Hanson’s own words, we who are adjunct faculty already “provide students with an exceptional experience” at Hamline; we are now asking that the university no longer exploit us as we help it fulfill this “most important priority.”

So when President Hanson speaks of being “careful stewards,” “guided by fairness” and aiming to “ensure the appropriate use of tuition dollars” these are realities that we have known from the underside—some of us for a decade or longer. And when she says the Provost “would like the opportunity to have deep conversations” directly with adjuncts, I am delighted. But as anyone who has taught at a liberal arts college knows—because it is a core insight of all critical thinking—conversations overlaid with unforgiving power differences are never deep—except as they are deeply stacked against those with less power. I will welcome these conversations because I firmly believe that adjunct faculty have a real contribution to make toward the health of our entire community. It is a community about which we care deeply. But I prefer to enter that conversation as a unionized adjunct with a collective voice.

The best way for the Hamline administration to pursue its “collaborative culture” with adjuncts is to stop opposing our efforts to unionize and to welcome us into a collective partnership in these important conversations about matters that indeed affect us all.