by David Scott, Councilor-at-large
At the Higher Ed Collective Bargaining conference this spring, the Union Membership Mobilization and Collective Bargaining panel was my favorite session. We discussed different sources of union power, not only bargaining and enforcing a contract but also the power of an active membership that is engaged with management and the broader community. To this end, one local from Florida started an “Organizing Fellows” program, wherein new union members are paid a stipend to do organizing work. This builds the capacity of the organization to effect change, and it develops future union leaders. The program is partly funded by the national organization, so the local doesn’t bear all the cost.
Another topic was the connection between skyrocketing tuition and increase in highly paid administrators. Focusing on this connection helped one local fight for the students in their social media campaign.
We learned from the California Faculty Association that their best strategy when faced with the Janus decision from the Supreme Court was to be ready to strike, only if necessary. Their preparations helped make a strike unnecessary, and helped them pressure the state government to pass a law protecting the union rights of unions. On the other side of that coin, we learned from colleagues at Wright State University that going on strike is not romantic (details from that story here). They used GoFundMe to pay the striking teachers.
Some locals use multiple structures for organizing members. So you might have a member-leader based on academic discipline, but also a member-leader based on a certain issue such as health insurance.
The takeaway from this panel was that a focus on building power pays off at contract negotiation time.
Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman gave the keynote. He persuasively made the point that suppression and disempowerment of unions throughout the past 60 years has been a key factor in rising income inequality.