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View Diary: We are a union household (107 comments)

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  •  We are a union household ... (13+ / 0-)

    My partner is an adjunct faculty member. If you don't know, that's very low status in the academic world. You work for however many years, maybe a decade, to get a fancy PhD -- and that gets you the chance to get paid a pittance, on contract, with no guarantee of further employment, the courses that full time professors on the upward track don't or can't teach. (Not that they have it easy these days either.) Nobody expects you to use that hard won expertise or even wisdom you acquired in grad school for anything but struggling to contain undergrads who probably didn't want to be in your course anyway.

    But, unlike most of the adjunct faculty in the country, my partner is a member of a union, the California Faculty Association. And the union won a good contract for its adjunct members: after she worked a certain number of semesters, she got access a seniority-based hiring pool and the chance to buy in at a low rate to the group health insurance that regular university staff get. And she can put me, her "unmarried" partner (only 31 years here), on her plan. She even gets pension plan contributions.

    The university can still dump her classes and fire her anytime they want. Her union still explains to her every summer how to apply for unemployment insurance between academic seasons because she has no guarantee of renewed employment -- but she's better off that most American workers. And I'm better off as her partner as well.

    All because she has a strong union.

    I don't have a union job. I work in organizing. I've worked for unions and, honestly, most of them are lousy bosses. Since they are forced to be perpetually at war against employers who want to eradicate them from the earth, their internal culture is nearly always martial and sometimes paranoid. Organizing work outside unions, in community groups and politics, is full of people whose experiences in union employment weren't pretty.

    But it's the unions that have given any of us half a chance up against enormous, bloodsucking corporations and bureaucracies that would treat us entirely as expendable cogs in their profit machines if they could (can).

    So let's celebrate Labor Day and get behind the flawed but essential organizations that won us the weekend!

    •  Adjunct status (6+ / 0-)

      is indeed very low.  It is the dirty secret of academia.  For awhile the NYT and other publications were writing about it, but it seems to have dropped off the radar.

      I was in that position one time and made less than my grad students received as stipends.  One Ph D student, who had a spouse with a good job, rejected her stipend because she was so outraged when she found out that I was teaching a critical upper division class, complete with full on lab which I had to prep myself, and receiving per semester 1/2 her stipend.

      And, yes, my and my family's union experiences have not been great, but we do need a counterbalance to employer power.  It almost seems like we've retrogressed a century in this regard.

    •  A union (non-tenure-track faculty) household too (7+ / 0-)

      My new husband and I are both contingent faculty, and both of us are fortunate enough to be unionized. Building a strong union movement for non-tenure-track folks like us may represent the most promising mechanism for turning around the entrenched disparities within the post-secondary education complex.
      I sympathize with your experience about unions being poor employers; I have had similar problems. However, I've had comparable issues in jobs with non-profits, so to me it's a general vulnerability of organizations that find the role of employer to be an uncomfortable one. In the best case, people can learn about being good employers as they practice the role themselves--and then apply that insight to the challenge they make to (other) bosses in seeking less exploitative working conditions.
      I also agree with someone who posted above--bink--who mentioned the importance of counterbalance. Without unions as a countervailing force, our situation would be even more dire.
      As for what to do, I guess that's a good subject for a diary! It's clearly a long, long-time struggle.

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