-Why was SEIU chosen and how did this come about? Who initiated this?
I reached out to SEIU after Kristina Podesva emailed me to say she had talked with an organizer at SEIU. I had had good experiences with SEIU in Baltimore years ago when we grad students were supporting laundry and janitorial workers in their struggle for a living wage. I met with a couple organizers and talked about my working conditions and some of the issues faculty have been concerned with, and whether it seemed feasible to organize at SFAI. Then met with a few faculty about what I found out. A few were very excited and a couple told me I should talk to CFT (California Federation of Teachers) organizers to get their sense of what would be the best for us. They said that they thought SEIU would do a good job, both in terms of building momentum, and in terms of giving us the legal support to negotiate a good contract. They said the “metro” strategy was a good idea for art schools. I talked to someone at CTA who said the same thing. I also talked to two labor organizer friends of mine in Boston and Philly who said that they thought SEIU’s adjunct campaign was “interesting and innovative” It was at this point that I thought I would dive in and start organizing.
-What are the strengths and weaknesses of SEIU in comparison to other unions that we could organize under?
In my perception the weakness of the SEIU is their aggressive first-stage momentum building tactics, which can be alienating. They are known for getting things moving in workplaces that are difficult to organize. They represent a wide spectrum of service economy jobs, which can be a difficult concept for artist/teachers who don’t easily conceive of themselves in the same boat with other service workers (this has been an organizing obstacle, though it’s one of the most exciting aspects of organizing with SEIU for me). Their different locals have very different operating principles. A different local (not 1021) has been involved in some contentious negotiations with large health care providers. They are leading the national struggle to organize fast food workers for living wages. And organizing the city employees against the Twitter tax breaks.
On the pros of their scale, they have a lot of research and legal support, and a large strike fund. They respond quickly, and build community support well, especially across sectors. They have major bargaining power, but they are more nimble and adaptive, generally, than, say, the UAW.
The con of their scale is that they don’t always promote trust, and their strategies (especially in the first stages, pre-election) can be scripted.
The good thing about local 1021 is that they have a radical tradition of member-led bargaining. They are affiliated with CFA who negotiated the contract at SFSU. We would have access to educational contract specialists from both CFA and SEIU.
The other teacher’s unions have more experience representing local higher-ed, but SEIU has more experience organizing higher-ed contingents under new labor conditions. SEIU has successfully organized art schools, which has proved difficult for more traditional teacher’s unions.
-How do we avoid creating a situation under which our employment is more precarious rather than less?
Some of us have been arguing that our situation couldn’t get more precarious. Many many faculty have been let go for bringing up very commonsense concerns in open meetings. The admin was on the verge of instituting a two year limit before this process started.They stepped back from that plan partly because of the pressures of imminent unionization. But good job security is something the engaged faculty have been thinking about from the beginning, in terms of looking at contracts and speaking to people at workplaces (both higher-ed and non higher-ed) who have achieved considerable job security in their contracts. MICA is involved in negotiating terms right now, with SEIU. This is going to be our major demand, and will probably take the most thought to hammer out.
-What are the terms and conditions we are most committed to win in these negotiations? How will these be decided within the group of workers represented in these negotiations? How will the negotiations be structured, when will they take place?
After talking with faculty at SFAI Mills and CCA since last fall about these things, this is my general perception of priorities in negotiations, in descending order of importance:
greater job security (again this will be the strategic one); Wage increases in step with the cost of living, including paid office hours and critiques; clear routes to advancement; a role in institutional governance (this is what I feel passionate about); greater transparency and accountability administratively; paid opportunities for professional development, access to research funds; retirement benefits; some people seem to care about health benefits, some not.
I can’t speak to the precise terms of how all of these will pan out, since it will take a collective intelligence, with supportive expertise, to work it out. Again, I can send you contracts that have worked.
Many of the faculty have proposed a horizontal assembly structure to negotiations and representation — I’ve been involved in those conversations, but my sense is that Lee W and Laura F have a really clear sense of what they want from that process. You might want to reach out to them. Jonathan from SEIU has said that this idea is in step with what the union encourages. SEIU has various polls and surveys that could possibly help us locate demands, they also have many examples of contracts that have been beneficial, and we could also have visits from faculty at other schools around the country who have negotiated good contracts.
-How much interaction will we have with SIEU after unionization and negotiation? Are the people we will interact with different from the organizers? What will dues look like?
After negotiation the union rep will be on call as a consultant. If re-negotiations are needed, we negotiate the time schedule for them — 2 years is pretty standard — but it could be one year, or three, depending on what we decide.
Right now we are interacting with organizers (some of them brand-new organizers!). After election we will choose a union rep from the local.
Dues are 1.74% only after we’ve negotiated a contract that benefits us more than that. The range of wage increase for unionization is from 14% at the lowest to 45% at the highest. There is no initiation fee.