The Union Stew 8/14

Dear Hamline Colleagues –

We’ve continued to bargain over economic issues for the past month. After meeting once more in July and twice in August since my last message, we’ve now met twenty times to bargain. This isn’t unusual for a first contract, but it’s new to all of us who are faculty members on the bargaining team, and it’s been quite the education. Some sessions feel long and unproductive, while others bring promise, but we continue to press forward bit by bit toward a contract we can bring to you—hopefully this fall.

Hard Bargaining. At this point pretty much every remaining measure of the contract has some dollar value attached to it, from course appointments and good faith consideration to salary, professional development, retirement contribution, and more. That means we get pushback on everything we propose. Sometimes we’re met with something close to derision. This is hard bargaining and there is temper and tension in the air.

But I suspect much of that tension is cover for surprise. I think the administration did not count on our perseverance. They expected us to settle for far less and far sooner. They did not expect us ever to raise our voices. They assumed that “Minnesota nice” would keep the balance of power squarely on their side of the table. They did not expect us to insist on “Minnesota justice”—and to do so with such articulate passion.

This does not mean we will get everything we ask for, probably not even everything we hope for. And we will certainly not “beat” the administration, because our goal has never been to wind up as winner at the expense of the other. But we will get something far closer to justice than Hamline was eager to offer. And in the end Hamline will be a better place for having been pulled much closer to the values, vision, and mission that give Hamline its identity. And yet, we will not get there easily.

So far about a dozen of us adjuncts have carried the cause this far. Obviously, many more signed cards and cast votes, but from the organizing efforts last spring, through the long hours of contract negotiations, mostly only the tip of our iceberg has been seen. No complaints here—that’s how organizing works, especially across a unit that is so scattered by schedule, location, and availability. But this fall, in order to bring our bargaining to a successful conclusion, we need as many of us as possible to be both visible and vocal. In other words, to BE the union we voted into existence last summer.

There are ways to invite (and, as needed, to push) the administration to move in the direction of justice. There are ways appropriate to an academic setting. As we head into our fall contract bargaining we will be asking you to be visible and vocal as we move Hamline toward justice.

Fear Factor. No one wants to name fear out loud, as though it’s a sign of weakness to speak this truth. I don’t buy that. I’ve heard multiple tales of adjuncts—and also fulltime faculty and staff—who say they are nervous, anxious, or outright scared to be visible in our contract struggle. The administration, intentionally or otherwise (and I suspect it’s a bit of both) has allowed a culture of fear to take hold at Hamline. Not all of this is about the union. There’s anxiety about university finances, friction between fulltime faculty and the administration, and uncertainty amid the presidential transition. (And probably a host of other issues I’m not even aware of.) But there is fear—and plenty of it. Hardly the sign of a healthy community, but we will not get beyond it by bowing to its pressure. We will get beyond it by joining arms and stepping forward together. Each new person who brings their voice to our cause widens the circle of safety for everyone.

Every Boat Rises. I am not a boater, but in “the Land of 10,000 Lakes” it seems a fair analogy. We know our unit is diverse. Some of us have fulltime professional careers, and the course or two per year that we teach at Hamline is not for economic necessity but as a form of professional service or alumni gratitude. For others of us, adjunct teaching, often pieced together across multiple campuses, is our primary income. For still others (like me), even though we teach only a course or two per year, every penny we earn from teaching goes to the day-to-day living costs of our family budget. This range of diverse circumstances in our unit means that if we each support only those aspects of a contract that actually benefit us individually, we will never find common cause.

We hope that our unit stands together across our diversity, just as the administration has hoped from the beginning that we would be divided by it. We need you to support dignity and justice for those in our unit whose lives as adjuncts are most precarious today. But we pledge to all of you that as a bargaining team our commitment is for a contract in which every boat rises.

Union begins with U. This fall more than ever you make a difference. Phone calls? Posters? Leaflets? Op-ed? Music? Food? Number-crunching? There are a bunch of ways to contribute. What skills and gifts do you have? In what ways are you ready to be visible and vocal in pursuit of justice? At least some of you have just done a quick mental inventory about these questions. If YOU did, please let me know, so I can help you get plugged in to our efforts.

We’re heading into “adjunct autumn,” a season of powerful change. I hope you’re with us.

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

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