Speaking to students about the strike deadline

As we approach our Feb. 21 strike deadline, many BCF members have asked us how and when to discuss the possibility of a strike with students. We suggest that you meet with students at the end of class to inform them about the deadline and the issues that we are fighting for in our contract. As the deadline is only two weeks away, it is not too soon to do this.

Here are some basic talking points that you can raise with your students:

WHY WE ARE PREPARING TO STRIKE:

  • Our poor working conditions adversely affect our students’ education much more than a strike would: the precarious employment status of a majority of the faculty erodes continuity of teaching, learning, and advising, while low pay, heavy workloads, and (for most) complete lack of benefits make it a constant challenge for us to be available for our students.
  • We would prefer not to have to strike but the administration has left us little choice. We have been bargaining for a year and the administration has dragged its heels every step of the way.

HOW STUDENTS CAN HELP BEFORE FEB. 21 (AND DURING STRIKE, IF IT HAPPENS):

  • Show solidarity by voicing your support to the administration and the public, educating fellow students about the strike, and walking our picket lines.
  • Read up on our history at bcfuaw.org. We have created a page specifically for Barnard students and alumnae: bcfuaw.org/students.
  • Get involved with the student group Student Worker Solidarity by emailing studentworkersolidarity@gmail.com or joining the Facebook page.
  • Sign the student petition supporting contingent faculty, which you can find on Student Worker Solidarity’s Facebook page or at this link: http://bit.ly/2jSFjb3
  • Urge tenure-track faculty who are not part of the union to honor our picket lines by moving classes off campus to Columbia, Teachers College, or other nearby spaces.
  • Encourage your parents to call or email Debora Spar (212.854.2021; dspar@barnard.edu) and Linda Bell (212.854.2708; labell@barnard.edu) and urge them to settle the contract fairly.
  • Follow us on social media to stay updated on our progress and learn more about how you can help. We’re at facebook.com/bcfuaw and @bcfuaw on Twitter and Instagram. Like and share our posts, and tag us in your own.

Here are some helpful links that you can download for discussion with your students:

Please contact any member of the Bargaining Committee with questions.

BCF-UAW Bargaining Committee has set a strike deadline

In early December, we voted overwhelmingly (119 yes – 15 no) to authorize the BCF-UAW Bargaining Committee to call for any action, up to and including a strike, if necessary, to secure a fair contract. Since that time we have met with the administration at the bargaining table several times. During these meetings there has been some movement on both sides (see this document for a full update). However the administration’s positions on job security, wages, and health benefits fail to improve our working conditions tangibly, and leave our bargaining unit vulnerable to erosion.

In response, the Bargaining Committee has set a strike deadline of February 21, 2017. If no agreement on a contract is reached by this date the union will call a strike. This date is two weeks prior to the departure of President Debora Spar, who leaves Barnard March 5 to become the CEO of Lincoln Center.

In the interim we are working to secure a contract before the deadline. We have several bargaining sessions scheduled before the strike deadline and we have also agreed to bring in a federal mediator to help facilitate bargaining. The federal mediator is a neutral party who cannot order a settlement, but can use persuasion and diplomacy to facilitate an agreement.

We all hope that a strike can be averted, but the administration has left us no choice but to prepare now for this possibility.

Barnard administration offers nothing new on wages, benefits, or job security

In December, we met with the administration’s bargaining team six times: December 2, 9, 13, 14, 15, and 21. This brings us, so far, to 25 bargaining sessions since we began negotiations on February 19, 2016.

In these meetings we made significant progress on certain contract provisions, with the administration retreating from some of their anti-worker positions:

  • Union Security: The administration has accepted our language that ensures that all bargaining unit members contribute their fair share in union dues or agency fee equivalent so that our union will have the resources to protect our rights under the union contract.
  • Non-Discrimination: The administration has accepted our language that ensures that in the event one of our members is harassed or discriminated against, that individual would have the right to grieve and arbitrate the issue through a neutral third-party process. Troublingly, the administration still demands that members sign away legal recourse to access this process.

These gains are a direct result of our strong strike authorization vote (89% voting Yes). Thank you for investing BCF-UAW’s bargaining committee with that vote of confidence.

On three core areas, however, the administration has offered little to nothing new:

  • Wages: On December 15, we responded to the administration’s public complaints that we had not answered their August 2 wage offer, by countering with a new proposal. We offered a tiered wage scale, which would allow raised minimums to be implemented over a three-year period. The administration’s response was completely inadequate: it left their proposed minimums entirely unchanged (i.e., at levels at or below what most already make) and simply extended paltry 2% raises into a fourth and fifth year, thus setting unit members even further behind in the long run. We are reminded of their Jackson Lewis chief negotiator’s March 11 taunt: “who’s to say we’re going to propose any wage increases.”
  • Job Security: On December 9, we offered a significant modification to our proposal on Appointments and Assignments, one that would guarantee a modicum of job security to both full- and part-time members yet still be responsive to the planning needs of departments. But the administration continues to reject any commitment to continued employment for any member of the unit. In public statements, the Provost claims that to maintain academic standards chairs and directors need absolute discretion in staffing courses. Our response is that chairs and directors do not enjoy such absolute discretion with on-ladder faculty now, yet academic standards do not suffer. Further, chairs and directors do not set budgets, salaries, and contract terms; the Provost does. Indeed, the Provost’s argument for unfettered managerial “flexibility” is grounded in corporate values, not academic ones.
  • Benefits: The administration continues to reject paid parental leave and is proposing no benefits for part-time faculty, the only College employees who have no access to employer health insurance coverage.

Yesterday we met to consider immediate next steps. We will write again soon to announce future bargaining sessions (we are waiting on a response), information sessions for our members, and our thinking about setting a strike deadline.

Strike authorization approved by overwhelming majority

89% voted yes in our strike authorization vote. The final tally was 119 yes votes and 15 no votes. This means that the BCF-UAW Bargaining Committee has been authorized to set a strike deadline.

The Bargaining Committee will continue to push hard in scheduled bargaining sessions tomorrow (12/9) and next week (12/13 and 12/14). We will write soon with the results of those sessions. We hope to report that the administration has heard our voices and is moving towards a fair contract. However, we will move to set a strike deadline if necessary.

Solidarity and resolve are becoming hallmarks of our union. At every stage—when we held a card drive to ask for a union, when the NLRB held an election to certify our union, and now when we are faced with administrative intransigence at the bargaining table—supermajorities have stood up to demand recognition of our contribution to the College. Our collective strength, bolstered by our multitude of student and alumnae supporters, will make Barnard a national leader in the treatment of contingent faculty.

Our response to President Spar & Provost Bell’s recent email

We write in response to an email you may have received last Thursday from President Spar and Provost Bell regarding our union, Barnard Contingent Faculty-UAW Local 2110 (BCF-UAW), and our negotiations for a fair first contract.

We’re glad that President Spar and Provost Bell express “full support for the union members, whose service we respect and honor.” We regret that this statement conflicts with what Bell told a room full of Barnard alumnae at a fundraising event on Friday, namely that in her understanding, most contingent faculty don’t care about the union and most contract issues other than wages are close to being settled. Neither is true. She also reiterated her position that she has no interest in seeing Barnard do any better than “the market” demands.

As a group of Barnard students noted in a recent op-ed, Barnard administrations have often failed to “Practice What You Teach,” but we hope the supportive rhetoric in Thursday’s email presages a change in the administration’s positions at the bargaining table. For now, we offer the following comments:

  • SPAR/BELL: “we have retained outside legal counsel through Jackson Lewis, a labor and employment firm with considerable experience in negotiating successful contingent faculty union first contracts at such institutions as Washington University and Northeastern University
         At Northeastern, the Jackson Lewis approach forced the faculty to threaten a strike to reach a contract. As The Chronicle of Higher Education noted, like Barnard’s administration, Northeastern’s “hired Jackson Lewis—a law firm which has a reputation as a union-busting powerhouse. Northeastern will likely spend more money retaining Jackson Lewis than the institution would spend giving its teachers a proper raise.“ Law firm aside, it is Spar and Bell who are the decision-makers in negotiations. It was they who betrayed Barnard’s values by choosing Jackson Lewis—the reactionary edge of labor law firms—and they who must take responsibility for wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on “a union-busting powerhouse” instead of allocating it to the work of education.
  • SPAR/BELL: “This fall, less than 30 percent of courses are being taught by adjunct faculty, and a quarter of those courses are in the dance department
         1) Our union includes not only adjunct (part-time) but also full-time faculty.  So the 30 percent figure is misleading.  It fails to account for the number of courses full-time contingent faculty teach (usually 5 per year), more courses than tenured faculty do (usually 4 per year); indeed, some of our so-called part-time faculty teach as many courses each year as tenured faculty yet receive no benefits whatsoever.
         2) Regardless of whether we are the absolute majority of faculty, we deserve fair treatment.  Most of us are women, many are alumnae. More equitable compensation, job security, inclusion in college life, and benefits for part-time faculty, some of whom live without health insurance, are not unreasonable requests.
         3) We fail to see the relevance of distinguishing Dance faculty: Dance faculty deserve fair wages and benefits as much as any other faculty.
  • SPAR/BELL: “we can neither compromise on our core academic mission, nor change the very nature of what it means to be an adjunct faculty member
         Fair treatment of the contingent faculty would not compromise the academic mission of the College. In our view—a view shared by hundreds of Barnard students and alumnae—treating adjuncts as integral rather than transient members of the Barnard community would enhance the college’s core mission. We unionized to change “what it means to be an adjunct faculty member,” and our first contract is an opportunity for Barnard to show progressive leadership.
  • SPAR/BELL: “issues such as determining which courses are taught, and by which faculty, must be left to the discretion of faculty department chairs and program directors
         We have never proposed that chairs and directors do not have that discretion. Our current proposal clearly states that management has the right “to determine how and when and by whom instruction is delivered; to determine all matters relating to faculty hiring, reappointment, promotion, and retention.” At the same time, we assert our right to academic freedom in the classroom and propose that reasonable job security for contingent faculty ensures continuity in teaching and advising of Barnard students.
  • SPAR/BELL: “We will continue to partner with the BCF-UAW to produce a contract that fairly rewards the pedagogic commitment of our contingent faculty, while also maintaining ongoing commitments to Barnard’s students, full-time faculty, and staff.”
         We share these commitments fully and think that the collective bargaining process is the best way to achieve these goals.
  • SPAR/BELL: “In early August we presented the union’s bargaining team with a second comprehensive economic proposal that includes a three-year progression of wage increases.”
         As we noted in our September report on the status of negotiations, the administration’s wage offer betrays a complete unwillingness to address the economic exploitation of the contingent faculty. It would in fact lower current course pay for a number of positions and offer no raises for a large number of other positions, guaranteeing only a minimum of $2,000 per 1- and 2-point courses and $6,000 per 3- or 4-point courses, amounts at or below what many already make, well below what adjunct faculty won in their recent contract at Tufts, and nowhere near a living wage for NYC.
  • We will send an update on the last two bargaining sessions soon.