What I said in the membership meeting today

I want to begin by saying thank you to the union bargaining team for their steadfast work on behalf of the membership in an extraordinarily difficult environment. I hold Kim Cline and the board of trustees solely responsible for the production of the contract we are facing today, one that attacks the most vulnerable members of our unit and pits worker against worker over crumbs while Cline and her team spend $4 million dollars on a racquetball club on Long Island. I want to be clear that I see her and her management team as the enemy today. The anger I have seen and heard that we have been directing at each other is Cline’s handiwork. She is and ought to be the shared target of our struggle.

We have been fighting Cline through faculty institutions since she joined us on our campus and that fight has taken many forms. It began when she told Stacey Gatti that history will continue to be a supported program at LIU Brooklyn as long is it can prove that it is relevant. In the union, we have fought an extended campaign for a fair contract. That fight brings us to today and a decision that, for me, is about preserving the union as an institution through which to organize and enact faculty power, both full and part time.

The conversations we have had around this vote have been difficult because there are no good answers. We aren’t meeting today to decide between a contract with fair wages and working conditions for part time faculty and one without those things. We have only one contract on the table. No matter what we decide today, we have no evidence that administration will do anything other than continue to attack all of us in different ways, turning us on each other so that she is no longer the target. If I could see clear to a decision we could make today that would turn back the contract provisions for adjuncts, essentially unchanged after more than 14 months of concerted pressure from us, I would be putting everything I have into that decision. But this is May 1, 2017, and after fourteen months of bargaining, organizing, rallying, petitioning, and standing against Cline, this is the contract we have in front of us. Whether we vote it up or down, we have every reason to believe its most punitive conditions will go into effect June 1. If we vote against it, it will be our contract and we will lose many of the protections we get from signing a deal. If we vote for it, it will be our contract, and we will be able to sustain those protections — which I believe are sorely needed.

I want to talk briefly about two things before I turn this over to comrades who see a different way forward than I do: principles and power.

I am voting yes in accordance with a principled belief in the power of a union to negotiate better wages and working conditions for its members. That power is not automatic and must be organized. As Jessica has laid out, a no vote is likely to precipitate an imposed contract. (And this is in the event that Cline does not exercise her legal right to lock us out again on June 1st, something the same people who told us we didn’t need to worry about in the fall are telling us not to worry about over the summer.) This is a violation of the principles that govern my own commitment to unionism. Under an imposed contract, management can legally eliminate three key union rights that will severely weaken our ability to protect our members going forward. These are the following:

First, dues checkoff would end, which means that instead of management deducting dues, we would have to collect them from each other. The conversations we have with each other will be about money and membership, rather than working conditions and grievances around which we can organize meaningful resistance.

Second, an imposed contract would end binding arbitration. That means moving grievances to federal court for resolution, a costly and extended process that makes contract enforcement significantly more difficult. NYSUT will provide legal counsel for those challenges, but locals are responsible for all associated court fees, and with a significantly compromised budget, we would not be able to afford to protect or fight for our members at the levels we do currently.

Third, if management imposes, it would mean that they could legally  renew the contract indefinitely without negotiating with us, so that they never return to the bargaining table again. And imposition means no guaranteed return to the bargaining table, not in five years and maybe never.

A union is an infrastructure that enables workers like us to organize on our collective behalf with some protections from the predations of management. Look at what our colleagues without union protection have faced, if they are still working here and not fired. A contract preserves that infrastructure. It allows us to fight another day. One of my core principles is that unions are better for all workers, full and part time. A negotiated contract–and this is the one we were able to negotiate in this moment in time–preserves the union.

My second point is about power. Both sides here will make arguments that voting yes or voting no gives us the capacity to continue to organize and to continue to resist. None of us believes that the vote today absolves us from continuing the fight, whatever form it takes. I have learned a lot about power since the lockout, both the power of management and the power we can build together through the union. When we voted down that contract, it was an expression of what we can do when we come together and speak in a single voice. We can be historic. We do not have that single voice today. But what we do have is a shared commitment to continue the struggle against Cline. If we ratify this contract, on May 3rd we begin that organizing with an enforceable contract, dues checkoff, and a time frame for negotiation. If we do not ratify this contract, we will lose key protections that a contract gives us and have to begin organizing from there. Maybe we would organize toward a next round of negotiations, maybe we organize in the wake of a lockout. We just don’t know. What we do know is that we will likely be organizing without basic legal protections for all of us, including our most vulnerable part time members.

I come to this position on the contract after months of organizing with all of you to pressure the administration to bargain fairly with us. Adjunct issues have been at the forefront of negotiations for more than a year. If I believed we could follow a loud and fierce no vote with an organized response that would change the terms of the contract, I would be saying that no with you today. But today I am voting yes, not for Kim Cline, not for a deal that attacks adjuncts, clinical chairs, and yes, even librarians. But I am voting yes for the union that has brought us into this room, that has organized in the wake of one of the worst higher education administrations anyone has ever seen. My yes vote is a yes to the union and a belief in our capacity to make it work for all of us if we continue the difficult work of organizing ourselves and each other. I have been committed to that work, and will remain committed to it, regardless of the outcome of today’s vote.

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