Drum roll, please: the PSC chapter at LaGuardia Community College, after weeks of grassroots mobilization and organizing, has achieved a 100 percent membership rate among the full-time faculty.
Union activists in every chapter have been engaged in getting both members and fee payers to sign blue recommitment cards in the face of a Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which observers expect will forbid public-sector unions from collecting agency shop fees from non-members in a bargaining unit, a decision that would severely compromise the financial clout of unions.
A SYSTEM IN PLACE
After months of PSC outreach across CUNY campuses, the rate of full union membership among full-time faculty and staff is, at the time of this writing, 94 percent, but LaGuardia is only the second campus to achieve 100 percent recommitment from full-time faculty. The other is York College. LaGuardia also has only a handful of fee-paying, full-time staffers left to sign up.
LaGuardia organizers explained that the LaGuardia chapter systematically identified fee payers, and activists met one-on-one with fee payers in their respective departments between classes.
“I’ve been involved with the union for many years, so I just felt the need to double down on my effort and ensure that all of my colleagues, especially the ones hired in the last four years, were informed about the consequences of the impending verdict,” said Reem Jaafar, a professor in the math, engineering and computer science department, who has been working on the sign-up campaign. “If the union has no financial basis to operate, then we’re all going to be wiped out.”
Rebekah Johnson, an associate professor in the education and language acquisitions department, attributed the chapter’s success rate to a strong activist spirit.
“We have a strong union membership and there are quite a few active people – we hold events, we’ve done picketing, tabling for information,” she said. “I think because of the strong message and the strong leadership of our chapter, the benefits of the union are well known. Faculty have seen results recently, like the agreement on the teaching load reduction, the ratification of the last contract. People are seeing what happens when we have a union and solidarity.”
At LaGuardia, as with other campuses, activists are also continuing to sign up adjunct instructors, who often lack any dedicated office space and are harder to track down on campus. Youngmin Seo, an adjunct lecturer in the social sciences department, explained that he took a list of fee-paying adjuncts and waited by their classroom doors before and after classes in order to meet adjuncts who were not already members.
“It sounded really hard to get those fee payers to sign up as members, but, in fact, I found out that 90 percent of the time the fee payers didn’t know that they weren’t union members, and immediately – it doesn’t take a lot of time – they signed up as soon as I explained the difference between union members and fee payers,” he said. “They’re very grateful that the union is reaching out to them.”
Rachel Youens, an adjunct associate professor in the humanities department, noted that one silver lining of the blitz to sign up adjuncts in the face of the impending Supreme Court decision is that it is encouraging grassroots organizing among the adjuncts and helping to reach new hires who might need help navigating the CUNY system.
“Some people have just gotten hired and they don’t know how CUNY operates yet,” she said. “I’ve been asked very good questions from people who are new to the system. It’s a good conversation to have. I think that an unexpected element of the Janus case is that it is democratizing this union a bit. We’re telling adjuncts about their rights and benefits – they’re not aware of how the union governs itself, but that’s what full-timers know about from the time they’re hired,” said Youens.
Union activists at LaGuardia are proud of their success rate, but they know that it’s only the beginning of the journey in a post-Janus world. Chapters will have to be vigilant in finding new faculty and staff in the bargaining unit and ensuring that they become full dues-paying members.
“We have to maintain this strong presence, and inform anyone who is new about the union,” Johnson said. “We need to always reach out.”