By Robert Yoshioka, Ph.D.
Too often, full-timers, union bosses, and administrators see part-time faculty as disposable, replaceable cogs in their educational juggernaut, and we are told repeatedly to “suck it up,” when it comes to agreeing to teach less-than-prime time classes, let alone not having offices or not being paid for holding “office hours” online, in the student union, or in our cars. We are called upon to staff classes at satellite campuses, and when a full-time faculty member’s classes do not enroll sufficient students, we are relieved of our classes by full-timers exercising their “bumping” rights with little or no compensation or a replacement class offered.
Let’s not discuss the inevitable foot-dragging when it comes to accommodating part-timers with disabilities. When our disabilities are perceived to be a problem, our “consistency” is first eroded, and then we are simply not offered any classes. Done, problem solved, on to the next part timer waiting in the wings for their crack at the broken dream.
The latest wrinkle in our organization has been our push for local involvement in CPFA via Institutional Membership (IM). When presented properly, we have been successful in enrolling individual part -timers locally or under the aegis of their local bargaining units. This is similar to the way FACCC includes part-timers in its organization, but CPFA is different in that we represent and advocate solely for part- time faculty interests, making us the only professional organization in California that maintains such an advocacy goal/profile.
Can social media revitalize us and give us access to new members, organizers? How do we help shape the future of the CCC’s – perhaps more in our own image? How do we combine organizing with effective and sustained successful teaching…no matter the discipline?
Occasionally, social science comes up with useful words and concepts. For those of us toiling in the part-time ranks, the new word is PRECARIAT, which is defined as, “in sociology and economics, the precariat is a social class formed by people suffering from precarity, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material or psychological welfare.” Part-time faculty are all members of the PRECARIAT, and looking to the future, we might want to consider calling ourselves: The California Precariat Faculty Association (CPFA)…no change to our acronym, but a significant change in terms of how we define ourselves and who we are, while getting rid of the pesky conundrum of deciding whether we are “Part Time,” or “Part-Time,” or “part time,” or “adjuncts,” or “contingent faculty.”
Finally, the recent Supreme Court JANUS decision has been seen as a setback for Unions and union organizing in general. However, looking at the world through our smudged dark glasses, the JANUS decision might be just the thing to get the Precariat geared up for another deliberate and organized move to get ourselves more fully engaged and embedded into the fabric of unions, because we represent an ongoing and economically significant source of revenue that has to be actively courted and hopefully paid attention to if the Edu-Unions are to once again become a viable negotiating force in the workplace.
While the Supreme Court thought it dealt the Unions yet another crippling blow, the very act of requiring members and potential members like Precariats to actively “opt in,” as opposed to the past practice of simply taking our dues and NOT necessarily servicing our needs – as was, and still is, common practice for so many locals – will change as we need to actively consent to union membership and representation OR NOT.
Admittedly, the “opt in/opt out” period for Precariats is brief – only a scant few days at the beginning of the implementation of each new local contract – but it is better than before. Coupled with the possibility that the act of signing up for representation is a chance to inform new members of their rights and responsibilities – like our right to serve as fully participating members of contract negotiating teams – is an opening that many “new” members might wish to avail themselves of.
Of course, it would behoove full time union members to keep the possibilities of more active engagement by Precariats to a minimum…merely suggesting that we Part timers paying our dues is “the fair thing to do,” because of the benefits of union membership would help to maintain our current level of benefits, rather than encouraging Precariats to join and help shape the scope and direction of the colleges as a whole.
My best guess is that this new possibility will succeed only in part because there is just too much inertia and lack of interest on the part of Precariats to act in ways that could bring major changes to our work environment. If we cannot get organized and see the JANUS decision as a golden organizing opportunity, then we will contribute to the downfall and extinction of Edu-Unions—and parenthetically, unions in general.
We need to finally recognize that as an underrepresented but potentially important part of union membership, we can and should exert pressure to improve our own working/professional conditions while also striving to make higher education more responsive and useful to our students.
If we cannot or will not do this simple thing, then we are doomed to participate in our own oppression and the eventual demise of public higher education because all the other players seem more interested in looking after their own self-interests rather than the well-being of the system as a whole.
Since we are presently “without portfolio” and have been gradually pushed to the margins of our institutions, I would suggest that we are the ONLY group that has nothing to lose by advocating for systemic change that will benefit students first, and coincidentally, everyone else who participates in the so-called Edu-Business.
After spending forty-plus years watching helplessly as our efforts to attain better working conditions for full time faculty and administrators have been assailed and our contributions minimized, this may be the last time that we will have a chance to work within the system to build healthy coalitions and renew members’ commitment to a focused union presence.
Let’s use JANUS as a springboard to action, rather than seeing it as a setback for the labor movement. We are not quitters, and we should embrace the moment not only to take our rightful place as faculty in the community colleges we work in, but to organize our way into being taken seriously by the union hierarchy since we have come to understand that our dues constitute a significant portion of each local’s operating revenues…for which we should now claim our right to fair representation and full participation in governance, contract negotiations, and grievance procedures.
My sincerest hope is that more of us will take up the cause and actively participate in our local’s activities. Failing that, we should consider more radical solutions. BUT, we must commit to making our lot better for us and our students by whatever means are at our disposal. We need to change our mindset to include the possibility of considering new solutions for our situation.
So, here we are, twenty plus years down the road with much to show and many new challenges facing us individually and collectively. Could we have done more? Hell Yes! But, we have made a difference, and that is the most important thing about our quest.
Regularization, extending “tenure” to all who meet minimum qualifications, and reliable year round health care are but a few of the things that we can accomplish if we use our minds and our “dues,” to it. How Much Longer, Precariats?