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The Value of Being a Union Member: A Visit with Southwest Instructor Hillard Holland
Posted On: Nov 29, 2021

AFT 1521 faculty member Hillard Holland divides his time between working as a computer science instructor at Southwest College and teaching computer basic-skills at Pasadena City College. While he has been a member of AFT 1521 for more than two decades, his first experience with union membership goes back nearly 50 years. 

In 1973, Holland had just gotten out of the military and accepted at job in Detroit with the Ford Motor Company. He became a quality control engineer, overseeing the machinery used to fabricate and assemble its cars. In the Big Three automakers’ factories back then, Hillard said, all workers were unionized under the United Auto Workers (UAW).

“One of the things I recognized right away is that there was a strength in numbers and that the union was there to help make sure that we had the proper benefits and proper pay,” Holland said. 

This near-unanimous level of unionization translated to high worker solidarity, which led to a tremendous amount of bargaining power for autoworkers of the era. For instance, Holland said, when a contract negotiation between the UAW and management would go awry for Ford and its workers would strike, workers at the General Motors and Chrysler factories would be locked out. The whole of Detroit’s auto industry would then grind to a halt until a contract could be agreed upon. 

The need to get the assembly lines moving again usually resulted in more favorable conditions and communication lines for workers. 

“There was definitely great value in being a union person,” Holland said. “If you had a complaint, you’d go to management, and at least you knew you had some strong backing, which made a difference.” 

Holland remembered this later when in the 1970s, he moved to Massachusetts to take a job as a technical recruiter at a minicomputer startup. It was a non-union shop. 

“It was sort of like the wild west,” he said. “If you had a problem, you didn’t know if you were on your own or not. There was a lot of excitement but also a lot of turnover.” 

After a stint at Honeywell — which was also not union-organized but at least had a much more robust system in place to keep management responsive to worker concerns, Holland said — he headed west to California in 1979. He worked in an electronics company’s HR department and then found himself back in school, eventually earning a Master’s degree in information technology in 1999. 

It was right around that time that a friend referred him to Southwest College. Holland interviewed and was hired as an adjunct instructor in the computer science department. Within months, he joined AFT 1521. The advantages were immediate. 

“This was a new [work] environment, where I didn’t really know my way around,” Holland said, “so being part of an organization that has experience working with the administration was the right way to go.” 

These days, with concerns about pandemic and pay and benefits running high among L.A. college faculty, Holland is stepping up and helping out with union recruitment by working with the Faculty Power Friday program.

“I talk with people about what they’re teaching and what their experience has been, and I talk with them about things they might possibly like to see changed,” Holland said. “I suggest to them that the best way to do that is to be a part of the union because the union has their interests at heart.” 

His enthusiasm and gratitude for AFT 1521 is all the motivation Holland needs to conduct recruitment — a new role for him. 

“I really appreciate the work the union’s been doing, all the way from the president on down,” Holland said. “I appreciate her and the union, period. They have a lot of credibility in my eyes. They’re really working for us and our best interests.” 

By Alex Weber

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