Solidarity

Well the strike of faculty in the Pennsylvania State System of higher education ended after 3 days of class.  Given that I had a couple of blog posts leading up to the post I thought it might be useful to sum up.  Before I get into the details of the agreement I thought I would start with some more personal observations.  I have never been on strike before and I found the experience interesting.

I think it was initially just odd because I think we all expected a last minute agreement.  It was also an odd feeling that I then became a truant, somebody who wasn’t fulfilling his contractual duty and for all intents and purposes didn’t have a job.  On the picket line we stand outside the university grounds and it was weird to get locked out of any access to campus systems as if we were just another person who didn’t work or attend the university.  I understand how it goes, but it feels a bit cold for a place that you’ve invested the last 14 years of your life in.

stike_millersvilleOn the picket line the feeling was definitely more positive.  There were so many students who supported us.  They honked their horns, came and stood with us on the picket line, and delivered snacks and water.  I really can’t express how much strength it gave all of us to see the student support.  We also had some support from grade school teachers who had recently gone through strikes of their own who lent support.  I really thought you would just be standing their on the picket line and then would have to walk to the closest fast food place in order to get lunch.  I’m pretty sure I gained weight on the picket line with all the food that was brought to us..

strike_calustudentsThere was also an intense camaraderie among faculty.  I saw many faculty I hadn’t seen in a long time as our separate “lives” in separate buildings often keeps us from interacting frequently.  I met faculty I had never met before and we had great conversations in getting to know each other better.  Despite the individual or department oriented battles we normally face every day, on the picket line there was a common sense of purpose that was a wonderful feeling.  And even though the strike is over, there is a part of me that misses that feeling.  I am sure I would feel differently if it was a cause I didn’t believe in, but when you mix in that feeling that you are fighting for something you think is important, with a group of people all feeling the same way, it’s powerful.  More powerful than I imagined it would be.  As a consequence there was also a darker side to this.  I am not sure what it all means yet but I found myself having an equally intense set of negative feelings to those who crossed the picket line.  There were a few.  While I know, intellectually that different people might have legitimate reasons, it was a sacrifice and a risk for all of us.  I even know someone who had very intense health problems and still went on strike.  I’m struggling with the empathy and already lost somebody who I considered a friend who crossed.  And I have another one that also crossed and am not sure how to deal with it right now.  Well so there’s that. “Group think” is a powerful force.  Although I’m happy to say that it still wasn’t cause enough for me to want to chant.  I’m not chanter.  🙂

strike_studentSo how did it all end?  Well I am happy to say we won.  Well sort of.  For those who believe that it was about the money for faculty I think we more than effectively proved them wrong.  After going an entire year without a new contract and losing the normal small increase in salary we usually get to keep pace with inflation, our final deal revealed very little salary increase and most of it was negated by health care cost increases.  We did reduce some of the deductibles slightly as the increased health care costs really impacted those faculty who themselves or their family have health problems.  I am happy to say that we did effectively eliminate all items from the table that reduced academic quality that I talked about in my previous post.  We also made sure adjuncts were treated fairly.  The biggest downside to it all is that the contract was short term.  It was only a 3 year contract, retroactive to when the last one expired.  So this contract will expire in May of 2018 and we’ll have to go through negotiations again.  Ultimately it’s disheartening how much the state wanted to degrade quality education for the purpose of money.  It seems apparent that they know the truth: that faculty really care about their students and educational quality and they can keep trying to degrade that and force us to take it on the chin in terms of salary.  Our increase in salary was half of what other state unions were able to get.  For most other unions it is just about salary and benefits, but our contract contains a lot of things that impact educational quality which can be used as leverage to keep salary increases low.  In a normal world, one might expect new contracts to contain things that enhance educational quality not weaken it.

With the way education is being attacked in this country I am thankful that I am in a union and that other educators have unions as well.  I naively thought it was kind of a silly thing when I started out.  It didn’t occur to me that such a large portion of society wouldn’t see it as important to always invest in and make better, as opposed to running it like a for profit business.   Currently the state schools in PA get appropriations that cover only about 25-30% of their costs.  To me this isn’t public higher education, this is a private school system with some state subsidies.  No wonder tuition costs continue to rise.  I suspect this strike is just one of many future battles we’ll be facing, and I’m ready to keep fighting.

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Here is my theme for the strike as I was the PR person and was hounded by reporters at times and “could not be everywhere at once”.

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15 thoughts on “Solidarity

  1. Unions can indeed be a powerful thing, and it’s easy to see why businesses and employers don’t like them: empowered workers aren’t as easy to control. I’m part of a union, the Oregon Nurses Association. We also just renegotiated our contracts. People in the local community chastised us as just being after money. That’s part of it, but we make 10%+ LESS than nurses in surrounding counties doing the same jobs. Our union was able to get us a wage hike that brings us on par with everyone else.

    It’s disheartening that everything comes down to money these days, but I can’t say I’m surprised. This country has some really messed up priorities. Everyone wants world class everything, but nobody wants to pay for it. The’ll write blank checks for the military, but every penny that goes to education needs to be scrutinized.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Indeed Ryan, and that is a hard part also. Knowing that people spend very little time being critical of massive corporate tax breaks or subsidies given to energy companies, but you perform a valuable service in society like nursing, policing, teaching and you are a greedy money sucking alien.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. LOL…I would have though you would have broke your union by now forcing to hire yourself as a lower salary…but then of course you could easily just form a new union and go on strike. Yeah I can see how that cycle would never end!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. You won the battle, and you won the moral high ground as regards those who crossed the picket line. You can gloat silently as they pass you by; they’ll know you’re doing it. 😉 Seriously, well done Swarn; you’ve made a stand against the neoliberalist fetish for efficiency even in the sphere of public goods, such as education, where efficiency should be secondary to other objectives. Good on you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Hariod! It definitely felt good to have won. Just a bit bittersweet that education has come to this. But there are people definitely fighting more desperate battles than I, so I can’t complain too much. Cheers Hariod!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, you’ve been busy while I was away in Ireland 😉 All the points that came up for me while reading the post were brought up by you, yourself. The groupthink. The “I’m not a chanter” (nor am I). Feelings of truancy. Surprising loss of empathy to those who ‘crossed the line’ (I’m feeling much the same in the current presidential political maelstrom). The degradation of education as a whole in the US. All this aside, I’m glad you won, in the end – even a small victory for ‘the little guy/s’ is worthwhile. Aloha.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Count yourself and your colleagues fortunate Swarn, to a degree. Texas is one of 5 U.S. states that bans collective bargaining between teachers and the state. As a result, Texas and those other 4 states consistently have lower ACT/SAT score-rankings: in 1999 Texas ranked 47th, in 2007 Texas ranked 45th. 😦

    As you alluded to, it is ultimately the quality of education that sufffers, then students, the state and nation who suffer in the long run. There is a profound reason northern European countries — particularly the Nordic nations — rank highest in the world for quality education & scores from primary up to graduate level.

    From the Fordham Institute for Advancing Educational Excellence article…

    https://edexcellence.net/file/112268

    Hope things go very well for you and PA teachers in May 2018! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Professor. There does seem to be a correlation there between weak unions and educational quality. Although Alabama appears to be a bit of a kink in that correlation. I know things are bad there though, so I would be interested to know why unions aren’t more successful there at improving educational quality.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A great question Swarn! Very glad you asked! 😉 haha

        That assessment I quoted (Oct 2012) determined teacher-union strength, state-by-state, according to 37 different variables across 5 educational realms: 1) Resources & membership, 2) Involvement in politics, 3) Scope of bargaining, 4) State policies, and 5) Perceived influence. Texas ranked 44th overall in those five areas. Fordham’s conclusion and explanation? “Small Fish in a Big Pond”. Here’s the study’s explanation; sorry for the length:
        ————————————–
        “Texas teachers don’t seem to mind that collective bargaining is prohibited in the Lone Star State. To the contrary, many of them have chosen to avoid the politics, and the conflict, that traditionally follows teacher unions. The state’s two largest independent teacher professional associations boast more combined revenue than the NEA-affiliated Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA) and AFT-affiliated Texas Federation of Teachers. The Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE) explains, “collective bargaining and exclusive consultation policies create an adversarial relationship between employees and employers that compromise students’ education.” With over 100,000 dues-paying members of the ATPE alone, it’s apparently a popular opinion.

        The voice of labor is not completely silent in Texas, but it is louder in the state’s capital than in its districts. In 2011, Texas lawmakers slashed $4 billion in education over two years to help close a state budget shortfall, and the TSTA reacted by imploring Governor Rick Perry to dip into the state’s rainy day fund. Perry reluctantly agreed to a one-time use of the funds to stave off an impending budget crisis, but vowed, “I remain steadfastly committed to protecting the remaining balance.” A year later, he stayed true to his word. The TSTA called for a special legislative session, requesting another bailout for 2012-13: With an estimated 12,000 teacher jobs already lost and 8,200 elementary classes above legal class size limits, TSTA President Rita Haecker argued that “[u]ltimately, these cuts and crowded classrooms harm our students’ learning environment.” Governor Rick Perry responded, “I understand that [using the fund] seems like a logical answer for them…[but] the reality is everybody’s got to give and education’s the biggest part of [the state] budget.” Apparently his mind is made up, and this time the TSTA’s pleas fell on deaf ears.”
        —————————————

        I was one of those casualties in 2011-12. It was very bad Swarn and I was a 4th – 8th grade Special Ed teacher (with no SpecEd aid; too expensive) at a campus for SpecEd students who were wards-of-the-state from horrible backgrounds. Over HALF of my students (5th thru 8th graders) in my 7 classes were SpecEd students. Gov. Perry and our State Ed Board made so many severe cuts that in order for our campus to remain open, we HAD to take on more SpecEd students (i.e. bigger classes), no annual 3% pay-raise, no aids hired, and increase our workloads by 35%. And Swarn, these were kids/students whose chances of ending up later in our mega-expensive growing state prisons as young adults… shot upward. 😦

        Needless to say, that charter school the following year went under state probations for violating SpecEd policies and class sizes per teacher/aid. HAH!!! Go figure, right?

        Like

      2. Meanwhile, as our educational system in Texas suffers or remains stagnate, THIS (link below) is quite the norm for our wealthiest Texas homeowners and landowners in suburbs and rural areas across Texas. This particular sector of the population constantly hounds (no pun intended there) the Texas Congress and legislatures to reduce taxes and keep them low and “government” out of their personal & civil lives. Notice all the pictures of these men’s Game Rooms…

        http://www.americanphotomag.com/inside-trophy-rooms-texass-biggest-big-game-hunters

        These men and their lifestyles dominate Texas politics Swarn. :/

        Like

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