“Solidarity: Unity Among Individuals with a Common Interest”
By: KC Boylan
By now you have undoubtedly received notice from LRCFT to participate in a campus contract forum, to complete a contract survey, or to attend a union contract event on or off campus. You may even have taken the initiative to contact your campus representatives, in person, via email or by voicemail to have your workplace concerns heard and included in the next contract negotiations cycle. Well, that cycle is upon us.
Members of the LRCFT Negotiations Team (NT) began the information-gathering phase in preparation for the collective bargaining process which begins in earnest in January, and which will result in an agreement that will affect each of us, some more than others.
Previous contract negotiations have often focused on those issues that had the greatest impact on the greatest number of faculty, typically that meant classroom faculty. Classroom faculty issues dominated the discussions because classroom faculty represented the overwhelming majority of respondents to our information requests. Over the years, the NT has negotiated assignment processes, office hour requirements, professional development leaves, classroom safety, performance review, and college service. Most of these issues were argued from the perspective of classroom faculty, leaving non-classroom faculty waiting for someone to advocate for them.
Once again the NT has put out the call to all faculty to share their concerns and experiences to guide the NT in collective bargaining; this time, however, the non-classroom faculty are ready to make their collective voices heard.
As a result of a coordinated campaign that began as soon as the last contract was ratified, non-classroom faculty have found a way to have their issues brought to the fore. Just over two years ago, a small group of Librarians, Coordinators, Counselors and Nurses began a strategic effort to identify common interests and to recommend contract changes to benefit non-classroom faculty.
Representing all four colleges, they met regularly with union leaders and with Robert Perrone, LRCFT Executive Director, to discuss workplace problems and identify gaps or weaknesses in our collective bargaining agreement. The initial step was to distinguish between campus level problems and district-wide problems. Typically, campus-level problems can often be resolved by LRCFT representatives working with college administration; problems that appear at all four colleges, however, suggest that resolution may only occur through contract negotiations.
What commonalities did they find?
Coordinators were struggling with a double workload as they simultaneously juggled coordinator duties with those of department chair, without receiving additional compensation. Librarians were unable to fully participate in a variety of important college activities as a result of inconsistent and, at times, arbitrary decisions to provide backfill for the time they were unavailable. Additionally, the failure to provide backfill for any one librarian creates workload concerns for other librarians. Counselors continue to struggle with the micromanagement of their professional development and student contact time, the implementation of new technologies that fundamentally alter the student-counselor dynamic, and the heavy workload associated with growing accountability standards.
As LRCFT moves into active negotiations next semester, the non-classroom faculty group will shift from an information-gathering function to an advisory function supporting the NT throughout the semester-long process. Though their job duties differed, their resolve was shared: strengthen the contract for all faculty, in and out of the classroom.
The Contract Campaign is designed to encourage member participation in a democratic process to solve workplace problems. It is a coordinated effort to engage faculty in the negotiations process. The campaign begins as an educational outreach effort, helping members to understand the negotiations process and the ways in which they are able to influence that process. It results in member empowerment. LRCFT needs its members to be empowered, we need members to participate, we need you to stand with us. We may be 4 colleges, but we are 1 union.
Nothing we can do in negotiations is as powerful as knowing that we are not alone in our efforts; it is the power of solidarity.