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Guest Opinion | Wendy Lucko and Jeff Hupp: Why Faculty at Pasadena City College Support Affiliating with the CFT

Published on Monday, September 25, 2023 | 5:56 pm
 

In October faculty at Pasadena City College can vote to affiliate with the California Federation of Teachers. As a CFT Local, under the national organization of the American Federation of Teachers, we can become a stronger, more inclusive, democratic union. Alternatively, we can remain complacent and settle for the Faculty Association (FA), an ineffectual independent union without a vision for what an empowered, diverse faculty can achieve.

The FA has cast themselves as the “underdogs” in this election. In reality they’re defending a status-quo in which their ability to protect faculty is based on the Executive Board’s personal relationships with administrators and Trustees. This “advantage” the FA cites as a strength leaves the majority of faculty vulnerable. It is an approach that keeps a few people in powerful union positions rather than cultivating democratic participation.

The FA is not a functional union. They do not utilize basic community organizing practices such as outreach, membership drives, faculty-wide surveys, and specific agitation and escalation plans that harness our collective power. This is foundational union work that we don’t see the FA doing. It is not because the Executive Board doesn’t care, of course they do. It is because they don’t have the training and resources that the CFT provides its Locals for their unique membership goals and community needs.

The FA is not proactive in researching comparable unions, collecting data, or providing training opportunities to activate members. Instead, their habit is to rely on the union’s attorney, opting to fight the administration in courts of law after they’ve already mistreated us, a process that is a waste of our membership dues. Affiliating with CFT means we’ll have dedicated Local representatives to help us proactively identify issues before they become problems, such as crafting clearer contract language and monitoring state-level policies that affect us. Why wouldn’t faculty want access to greater resources and expertise?

The FA is not inclusive of all faculty and has critical blind spots that negatively affect us. A contract oversight gave the administration leeway to not pay faculty coaches in 2020. The FA Board urged the coaches to appeal to the Trustees on their own rather than activating all faculty to join this smaller unit in putting pressure on the District to rectify this. Another example is the problematic contract “win” for noncredit faculty. Although they now have a stepped payment schedule, the starting rate is still astonishingly low compared to other local community colleges. Ask PCC’s noncredit and counseling faculty: we routinely lose talented colleagues to neighboring colleges represented by CFT Locals that have secured better contracts. This lack of statewide awareness also means that the FA left $3 million on the table when negotiating the new part-time health insurance benefit.

Two years ago, CFT won $200 million a year in ongoing state funding for part-time faculty health care. Without the statewide network that is the CFT, the FA had little way of knowing that the deal they rushed into was substandard. While over a dozen CFT Locals have won full healthcare equality for part-time faculty, the FA settled on a deal that only reimburses the College 50% of the costs, instead of the 100% that most CFT Locals have gotten, forcing our part-timers to pay more. Unlike most other districts, the deal the FA rushed into includes no coverage for spouses, partners, or dependents.

The FA walked away from guaranteed funding from the state, and coverage for families, because they lacked the updated training to know what to ask for. This is not the fault of the two adjunct faculty who worked on this issue. It should have been all of us fighting for this right, but the structure of the FA empowers only the seven FA Board members and the union lawyer.

It doesn’t have to be this way. This election may be our only chance to correct this course and participate in creating the future that PCC deserves. At a recent FA general meeting, a faculty counselor asked, couldn’t there be a dedicated seat on the Executive Board for counseling faculty? The Executive Board did not indicate a way to change our FA Constitution to be more inclusive and democratic. Instead, she was told that they didn’t personally know any counseling faculty who were interested in leadership.

As a CFT Local– the Pasadena City College Faculty Federation (PCCFF)– we can have a functioning union that empowers and supports all faculty. Exactly what that looks like, including leadership and dues structures, will be up to us. Commitment to Locals’ autonomy is a core CFT value that is evident at each affiliate.

Across the PCC campus, counselors, adjuncts, full-timers, noncredit instructors, and librarians are voting YES to join the CFT as a locally-controlled affiliate union with access to greater research, training, expertise, and support. Together we can be so much more effective in representing the needs of our faculty and holding the District accountable, ultimately benefiting our students and our greater Pasadena community.

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