One-on-one conversations galvanize part-timer participation

HOW CAN WE convince more part-time faculty that union membership and participation are the single best way to improve working conditions, pay rate, and job security within California’s community colleges? One-on-one conversations, say part-time faculty Natasha Bauman and Sharon Kerr, whose local unions are both recipients of a new grant from CFT. The Member Organizing Committee, or MOC, grant helps locals conduct member outreach and sign up new members.

“In our local, we’ve tried everything to reach out to non-members,” says Bauman, a member of Adjunct Faculty United in the North Orange Community College District. “We’ve used mailers, flyers, presentations before and during the semester, and various social events. But nothing has engaged our part-time colleagues like individual, personal conversations about the benefits of union membership.”

According to Kerr, a member of the Fresno-area State Center Federation of Teachers, talking with people personally resulted in an overwhelmingly positive response. Most faculty she spoke with did not fully understand either the benefits of union membership or the fact that they would not see any out-of-pocket expense in becoming a member. According to both Bauman and Kerr, quite a few instructors thought they were members but weren’t.

Both faculty organizers have learned that a significant amount of work is required to simply be able to speak directly with fellow part-timers. Finding people proved challenging because district-provided lists of current instructors and teaching locations were not always accurate.

Further, because not all part-time instructors are afforded space in which to hold office hours or are not compensated for office hours, immediately before and after class was usually the only window of opportunity to reach colleagues. And because classroom location changes are not always captured on college schedules, additional data gathering was necessary to figure out exactly where their colleagues spend limited time on the campuses where they teach.

In spite of all the challenges in making personal contact with potential union members, Bauman and Kerr feel encouraged by their successes and inspired to do more organizing work. Kerr explained, “So many people feel practically self-employed. They feel disconnected from the larger community in which they teach.” Such people expressed genuine appreciation that she had spent the time and energy to find and to speak with them individually. Those who feel they are treated by their employers as easily replaced, “expendable” workers, according to Kerr, were especially cheered by her efforts.

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