There is a Chinese proverb with which I am sure many of you are familiar. The proverb states, “It is easy to break a chopstick, but they become unbreakable when we put all of them together.” This proverb captures the essence of the power of the union. In order for us to be effective, we must be united. This does not mean that we do not have differences amongst the various constituencies or individuals. It does, however, mean that we must be united in our efforts to achieve important goals. This, of course, is easier said than done.
We are currently in a challenging time. Not because we are facing a dire budget as we did back in 2008, but because we are seeing perhaps the best budget outlook we have had since the Great Recession. It seems contradictory, however, that with more money available, there is a risk of more conflict. We have all been waiting for better times, and there are so many excellent ways to spend the money. The Guild’s primary function is to direct portions of the available money to serve our members’ needs in the area of wages, benefits, hours, and working conditions.
Superficially, this seems like a simple matter. However, when you take into consideration the many areas that we represent, you see that it is no easy task. We represent faculty in Instruction and in Student Services. Instruction is represented by multiple divisions, with some divisions containing several departments. We also represent faculty from all the areas within Career and Technical Programs as well as the Library. Moreover, within Student Services, there are areas such as Counseling, EOPS, and DSPS. Furthermore, our members come from both Non Credit and Credit. The faculty are also made up of those who are full-time tenured, tenure-track, adjunct, temporary contract, and division chairs. Needless to say, our membership is diverse and each group is faced with unique challenges, and since the Guild represents faculty from so many diverse areas, representation and negotiations can be quite challenging. At the same time, the diversity of our membership provides us with an opportunity to be very effective, since our members work in nearly every area of the campus. In this way, we have quite a bit of expertise and influence. The Guild has been working on ways to maximize this expertise to bring about win-win solutions that benefit both the college and our bargaining unit members. And this can only be achieved if we stay united.
Going back to the aforementioned proverb, the chopsticks do not only represent us as members of our Guild, they represent all our allies within and outside of our college. This notion of building alliances is extremely important to our success as a union. Many of the challenges that we face today are rooted in systemic problems that go far beyond our college. Although I have written about the problems with the fundamental contradictions of capitalism in other articles, in this article I will refrain from focusing on that – perhaps the largest of all problems. But I do want to focus on at least one fact we cannot deny – that the significant loss in our purchasing power is largely due to factors outside of our college. We also cannot deny that the exhaustion that we are feeling due to all the expectations coming out of the ACCJC is to a large extent a result of policy changes also occurring outside of our college. The rising costs of health care, which impact the pot of money available for salary raises and accessibility to our health care plan for adjunct faculty is also occurring outside of our college. Lastly, although there are other examples, the overreliance on adjunct faculty and the exploitation of adjunct faculty also has systemic roots largely coming from outside the college.
This is not to say that our college cannot make things better. In fact, I believe the administration, for the most part, understands, as we do, what the right thing to do is. We all understand that the college needs to build back some of the drastic budget cuts from previous years. At the same time, we also understand that it still comes down to priorities. It is the duty of the Guild to negotiate with the administration to do what is possible within the limitations of our college budget and policies, while keeping in mind that the interests of the faculty need to be a high priority for the college.
The Guild also participates in the process of making or changing college policies through the governance process. However, we must not neglect the struggles that are happening at the state level (and even at the national and at the global levels). For example, it is imperative that we all keep in mind that Proposition 30 is set to expire, and we need to deeply reflect on the implications of this reality and plan accordingly. We must also think of ways that we can work in unity with others who have a desire to ensure adequate funding of community colleges and then advocate for ways to ensure that we achieve our vital goals.
The Guild has been advocating and lobbying for change along with the California Federation of Teachers, of which we are a part. Some of the important issues are: more funds to convert part-time faculty positions to full-time positions; more funds to close the pay equity gap between part-time and full-time salaries; more funds for part-time faculty office hours; more money in general for community colleges, such as funds for COLA, and the recent unrestricted funds for operating expenses that amount to about 5.11%. Moreover, we, along, with our GCC Academic Senate, each submitted a resolution addressing our concerns with the ACCJC.
To conclude, there are many struggles ahead of us and with the struggles come opportunities for greater unity and positive changes. We must all stay united and plan for the future. It is true that this coming year’s budget is looking much better than it has in the past. Please rest assured that the Guild is doing its best to negotiate our fair share and negotiate agreements that benefit us all. Beyond this, it is imperative that we all carefully examine what is occurring at the local, state, national, and global levels that impact our situation at the college. There is much that we can accomplish together.
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