Jeff Hicks stepped up to the microphone at the Board of Trustees meeting on November 6th, the last of AFT Local 1521’s planned speakers for the night.
The LA City College English/ESL professor talked about how often faculty go above and beyond for their students, citing professors who have helped students with immigration and health issues, and even one who set up a food bank for homeless students.
He ended his remarks by repeating the sentiment shared by all the Local 1521 speakers before him: “I’m asking that you treat our negotiating team with respect. And just remember — we’re here for the students.”
Hicks was one of more than 80 faculty union members who showed up at the Board meeting at Mission College. They sported blue shirts to show their support for the kickoff of contract negotiations.
The union’s leadership started formally planning the public action about 10 days prior, although Julio Tsuha, one of the organizers, said much of the groundwork had been laid out for months with face-to-face and member-to-member outreach.
“With every union, the main source of power is the membership, and so for our membership to have power they have to be united. Everybody’s got to be on the same page,” said Tsuha, a sociology professor at Pierce College.
Picolya Robinson, an adjunct instructor of psychology at Southwest, was selected for the negotiation team despite having only been a Local 1521 member for two years.
“How you make change is by being involved. You can’t sit back and point out everything that’s wrong,” Robinson said. “When you’re given the opportunity to step up and be a part of something to create change, you do it. I was given that opportunity.”
Several of the members at the event said it was their first public action with the union.
“Our main bargaining chip is really our numbers, the fact that we’re interested and the fact that we’re willing to turn up, so that’s what I wanted to try and do today,” said Wesley Oliphant, an economics professor at Valley College, who was attending his first Board of Trustees meeting.
Local 1521 members proved to be interested in all details of the negotiations. James McKeever of Pierce College pressed for smaller class sizes. Diana Garcia, who teaches at Mission College’s Child Development Center, questioned why her 10-month position status means that she can only use her HRA card for six months of the year, while comparable positions at other colleges don’t have that limitation.
Fatema Baldiwala, an adjunct instructor of English at Valley College, says adjuncts “are really being mistreated.”
“We talk about equity all the time for our students, but no one talks of equity for adjuncts ... and to me that’s a big gap. It’s the elephant in the room that they’re not addressing,” she said.
Mindy Chen, a Labor Studies professor at Trade Tech and one of the union’s chief negotiators, said it’s key that members stay engaged. This way, she said, when it comes to bargaining the Board of Trustees will understand “that it’s not just 18 of us in the room, but thousands of members who are informed and ready to show up in a blue shirt.”