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Monday, May 05, 2014

It's Now Or Never: An Adjunct Responds to SFAI's Latest Talking Points

In the latest communication from SFAI Administration dissuading adjuncts from voting to organize with SEIU, Dean Rachel Schreiber writes:
The key question: Is SEIU the right union for you? There are very significant issues facing adjunct faculty at most institutions, including SFAI. But this particular election will not guarantee solutions to these problems. Instead, this election will only decide if you commit to having SEIU represent you. I believe SEIU is not the right union. That is why I encourage you to vote no.
Let us be very clear, the "very significant issues facing adjunct faculty [at] SFAI" are that we have no job security, no reliable prospects, no voice in institutional governance, and no consequential recognition of our contribution to the community of SFAI.

These are not abstract issues. They are very specific. They have been articulated many times in many ways in many venues -- in self-study documents, open letters, statements in public meetings, stakeholder petitions -- and the administration has not responded to these problems except to choke off lines of communication that once existed (eliminating department heads and thus severing communication networks while at once overburdening to the point of failure those few remaining people who have any standing with administration) and to threaten our employment (with "at will" contracts surreally unsuited to an ongoing teaching situation, and recently cavalierly proposing that no adjunct can teach more than two years but then informally kinda sorta taking it back, perhaps when they realized that this would betray trusted, beloved fixtures at the school who have taught for decades and also cause a level of churn among three-quarters of the actual teachers at the school that would undermine standards, student-teacher relationships, and cause chaos to no good purpose). The administration is making very real, very specific, very solvable problems worse, and that too is a problem.

These problems provide the obvious context in which adjunct organizing has taken on its present urgency in the first place. In describing SEIU as a vast, soulless, alien octopus with nefarious intentions SFAI hopes to distract us from the real problems we are experiencing with loose fears of the unknown.

"SEIU is not the right union," SFAI helpfully advises.

So, what is the right union? What union won't respond to these obvious problems in the obvious way that will obviously annoy SFAI exactly the same way that SEIU does?

Of course, there is no "right union" -- but more to the point, there is no "other union." Not here, not now.

Perhaps Dean Schreiber and I would both prefer that adjuncts be represented by the Lollipop Guild, but the Lollipop Guild is not on offer. The Lollipop Guild organizes labor in the Land of Oz. San Francisco is not Oz (though arguably it comes close on a good day).

The vote to organize with SEIU is the vote to organize at all. There will not be another, at least not for us.

Dean Schreiber continues:
Among my reasons why you should vote against unionization by SEIU:
* SEIU has made questionable promises to you -- they cannot make guarantees regarding pay increases, job security, or other benefits prior to negotiations.
* SEIU has been criticized for "charges of coziness with big employers, limits on internal democracy, excessive deference to Democratic party leaders and frequent clashes with other unions.” [Source:]
* SEIU does not have a long history with higher education, and certainly not with small independent colleges. They have not yet negotiated a contract with an art school, so there are many unknowns.
* Signing on to SEIU would be a big commitment, and despite what they say, it’s not an easy one to undo.
As someone who confronts this enormously consequential election and has reviewed plenty of materials provided by SEIU by now, I want to say that I have received no promises that they will negotiate a contract that guarantees pay raises. They have merely pointed out that they have negotiated such contracts for others. SEIU has told us that union dues are 1.74% of our negotiated salary and are to be paid only after a contract is ratified. And it is hardly likely that we would collectively ratify a contract that set us back financially. It isn't exactly a surprise that this detail is not specified in administrative talking points, only circumvented with loose talk about a lack of guarantees. But of course, adjuncts are used to working without guarantees. That is the prevailing state of affairs, after all. No one thinks organizing makes the gaining of benefits inevitable, but everybody knows that SFAI has not provided these benefits on their own in absence of the standing organized adjuncts might bring to bear on negotiations.

It is rather curious that the administration insinuates that SEIU is cozy with big employers. I am not sure the Suits at the long abusive fast food corporations SEIU is organizing would describe their relationship with SEIU as a "cozy" one. Perhaps I can be forgiven the suspicion that SFAI's administration would be looking forward to quite a game of footsie were they really anticipating such corporate coziness, rather than quaking in their boots and spitting out misleading talking points. Turning our attention from SEIU back to SFAI itself, one wonders if SFAI always finds corporate coziness so objectionable after all? Is there any corporate coziness to be found in the donor list for the vast pharaohnic building projects that presently preoccupy the SFAI administration's attention, for example? Does one discern an elicitation of corporate coziness in SFAI's Corporate Sponsoring Packet, exhorting companies to "Secure exposure for your name and brand in social media advertising, web and print promotional materials, course catalogues, and event signage" in exchange for cash? (If you follow that link, by the way, do note and enjoy the prominence of Diego Rivera's fresco in these promotional materials.)

When Dean Schreiber points out that SEIU has little history organizing small independent schools or art schools she conveniently fails to mention the substantial commitment represented by recent SEIU organizing of adjuncts at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Mills College in Oakland, the California College of Art, as well as at SFAI.

Denying that there is a history of such organizing distracts attention from a history of undeniable abuses but it also fundamentally misreads what is happening right now: a movement organizing the neoliberal precariat of the corporatized academy, happening in the present moment, of which we are being asked to be a part. That there is not yet a history of such adjunct organizing just means that we are Making History.

The abuses of a generation are palpable. The problems that beset us are clear. The promises of this moment are exhilarating.

Are adjuncts going to take this chance to organize? Or are we going to count on loose promises backed by administrative nobless oblige instead?

Educate! Agitate! Organize! The time is NOW.

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