Taking Collective Action to Defend our Schools

By Ben Ratliffe, Our AAUP Organizer

Sometime between today and June, the US Supreme Court decide, in the Janus v. AFSCME case, whether or not public sector unions will have the financial support they need to continue supporting public sector employees. This decision would negatively impact everyone from secondary and higher education teachers to the workers who maintain your city’s sewers, take out the trash, drive the kids to school, and work with the homeless and mentally ill.

So called “right to work” laws, limitations on bargaining, and the outright denial of bargaining recognition for certain sectors of employees are some of the ways that our entire national labor regime – established almost 100 years ago under the National Labor Relations Act – is being dismantled.

Collective bargaining agreements and grievance procedures, tenure and shared governance are indispensable protections that we should fight to maintain.

However, they are not your only tools and they have always had their limitations when it has come to ensuring educators have the resources they need.

In recognition of that – and due to no small amount of pride, anger, and organizing – educators across the county are coming together, hitting the streets, and fighting back. Organizing under the hash tag #Red4Ed, k-12 educators are raising the bar for what we should expect for our education system and drawing support from their communities and, perhaps even more exciting, other unions are joining their fight.

When people start taking action, the affect can be infectious. We may not know where all of this will lead, but one thing seems certain – we are entering into a period of history where when working people – particularly educators – decide to stand together and take action, you can expect to find support.

Right now, AAUP organizers are working with Chapter leaders across the country to prepare for the impact of the Janus decision, and one thing is becoming very clear – it is not enough to simply defend what we have left; we have to build the solidarity and power that comes through collective action to demand more funding for faculty, staff, and students.

Issue Campaigns are one way to do this. There are numerous actions faculty can take together to raise awareness and make demands. At the University of Akron, the AAUP Chapter began this semester by organizing Listening Sessions across campus. Through these sessions, we’ve assessed new and longer term problems and began to propose solutions. The Chapter Executive Committee also released a statement on Program Review calling for greater transparency and accountability, and meaning faculty input. Faculty have attended coffee hours to discuss Janus and, as it turned out, the departure of President Wilson. And the Chapter as co-sponsored a public forum on alternative models for college athletics.

Over the next year, Chapter members – and non-member, alike – will want to consider next steps.

Faculty should continue talking collectively about problems and posing solutions. This might include a discussion that assumes, for the sake of argument, that you have all the resources you need and made all the decisions. What would our ideal department looks like? This could lay the ground work for a list of short- and long-term demands.

Akron faculty can also begin compiling lists of potential allies. It is never too early to start contacting people on and off campus, letting them know what is going on at AU and that faculty will, at some point in the future, need their support. These could be other faculty, perhaps at other campuses, staff, other unions, students and parents, professional or social justice organizations.

During the 2019-20 academic year, Akron-AAUP will need to prepare for a new round of contract bargaining and increase membership, especially assuming the Supreme Court sides with Janus against our unions. An issue campaign can give these tasks a huge boost of energy.

Educators, staff, and students deserve so much more. And so much more is actually available! We are going to have to find ways, together, to build the power to get it!