On working with the SEIU

As a former faculty who was a part of working w/ the SEIU, I am jotting a quick note to voice a few concerns I have wrt emails bouncing around from the admin and some adjucts at the California College of the Arts.

1. When the president and the provost take a position of “wait and see” and “not yet” about the SEIU vote, they are meddling in a decision that is none of their business, and their meddling is a sign of disregard toward faculty. They might adopt a cautiously neutral tone, or not directly endorse those positions (just put them out there as “ideas”), but their position is not neutral.

Union representation is not and never would be in their interest. We form unions precisely because of *our* interests, not theirs and the trustees’.  Don’t ask them what they think.

2. The admin will bring attention to meager improvements or to how slightly better CCA is over other schools. Great! All that and more. Is a couple hundred bucks enough to appease you when the president makes about half a million?  The point of being unionized is to have bargaining rights and better teaching conditions (ultimately, indeed, a better environment for students). They might make it sound like they can do everything unionization promises w/o actually having a union, but they can’t give you collective rights. You create those outside of the admin.

3. Do you think the union is brusque or aggressive? Have you ever met the labor attorneys your bosses hire? IOW, *any* union… AFT, UAW, etc will be tough if they have managed to survive this far. Don’t expect a cocktail hour at the bargaining table.

4. Again, as I have written elsewhere, the SEIU is an establishment union; it is actually quite mainstream and conciliatory with business, at the end of the day. *They donate $$ to the Democrats, after all!*  If you are going to vote against the SEIU, do it in order to form something *better* than SEIU, not worse. Are you prepared to volunteer to form a more radical, independent union (amongst dispersed adjuncts)? If you are not committed to work for something more radical, then I humbly urge you to stick with the SEIU.

5. Admin and faculty senators are fond of pointing out that the SEIU represents janitors. This is a classist discourse. What difference does it make? I respect janitorial staff enormously and janitors have worked tirelessly for their rights. I’d be proud to be in a union w/ them.

6. There is also a common refrain that the SEIU is not experienced with academia. But what gets negotiated in a contract rides on the faculty which the faculty body elects as part of the negotiation team. The union can also get high on its power — if faculty sit back and let them run the show.

7. Words like “collegial” and “open” will also be deployed like stealth weapons to dissuade faculty from acting to demand their rights.

8. Admin will be against unions because they are worried that all their workers will follow. The security guards, the bus drivers, the janitors, the computer staff, and so on. Let them worry and fret and deliberate on *their own time* and not meddle with *your rights* to unionize. Also…Stop letting the admin waste your unpaid time on meetings that have zero decision-making power riding on them. 

9. Artists and art workers have a long history of labor insurgency. The great work of Mierle Laderman Ukeles is a testament to this, not to mention her affinity with the workers who do the unwanted, messy maintenance work of garbage and cleaning. (This is something I learned from teaching with David Gissen in the lecture halls of CCA). It’s frankly time to reclaim that history and this connection to the struggles against structural oppression. Neither yes or no is a clear path to retaking that fight. Faculty have many more oppositional and creative tools at their disposal than what admin or union bosses would have them think. All paths lead to more struggle and more work. But my plea here –as someone who started going to meetings with the SEIU back in January (we’ve had plenty of time, btw)– is to make the decision based on organizing and on engaging deeper with that struggle, rather than on the reasons espoused by the voices for “civility” and milquetoast “cooperation” and “collegiality.” If it were my vote, I’d vote yes.