What happens when your employer disregards your contractually negotiated rehire rights? Part-time instructors at Oakland’s Laney College recently found out. One of them is Cynthia Mahabir, a sociology instructor and Part-Time Representative on the executive board of the Peralta Federation of Teachers. Mahabir has taught for 17 years, but the district did not rehire her this fall, despite the rehire rights negotiated between the union and the district. Mahabir gave an in-depth interview to Part-Timer.

Q How long have you taught sociology at Laney College?
For 17 years and I love it.

Q What gives you the most satisfaction about teaching?
Teaching at a community college has been far more satisfying personally than teaching at four-year institutions. The classroom excites me and is my source of gratification. I really like the students, who represent a very interesting mix of ethnicities, immigrants and native-born students, and people of different ages. They come from the wider Bay Area and even as far as Sacramento; sometimes they take multiple forms of public transportation to get here. So many of them are deeply appreciative of learning and get really excited about the stories I tell in class, the connections I make between the sociological concepts we’re studying and the outside world.

Q How did you feel when you learned you weren’t going to be rehired?
A My heart sank. I felt like I’d been summarily discarded, especially when I discovered they had cut off my access to district email and I couldn’t even communicate with colleagues or former students.

Q How has this changed your life? 
It’s been hard. It was emotionally and personally corrosive for a while, but I’ve figured out how to deal with it. I’m willing to fight because I think this is an injustice. 
I have a lot of support from my part-time and full-time colleagues at the college and others across the nation. I’m staying focused, not getting drawn into nasty aspublic exchanges, but instead putting energy into the processes we have in place to challenge this administrative decision.

Q What’s your sense of why this was done to you? 
A It seems clear to many of us that it was retaliatory. I had taken public positions that the administration did not like.There have been some ex post facto fabrications justifying the decision, but none of them is very convincing or defensible according to our contract language on rehiring part-time faculty.

Q How has the union helped you during this difficult time?
Our local union was aware of my case, and that of other instructors, even before I was because the administration sent them a letter saying I was not to be rehired because I was not a “good fit.” The union was ready to file a grievance even before I thought about what should happen! Because I’m the Part-Time Representative for our local union and some of the public positions I had taken were in that capacity, the union was clear that they would do everything possible to fight for me. They also understood it was extremely important to defend our rehire pool contract language.
We compiled a detailed report about my case that was put in all faculty mailboxes. We conducted two reinstatement petition drives with high faculty and student participation. We also organized a series of presentations before the Peralta Board of Trustees. I invited some students to speak because of the claim made by the administration that I was “not the best fit” for Laney students. Hearing what students said about the effects of my teaching was really special and touching. They expressed such appreciation. I’m deeply gratified to see how they develop and to know I’ve played a role in shaping the next generation.

Q What possible outcomes do you see at this point?
Our contract has a clear timeline for procedures in cases like mine. The first stages require informal conversation between union representatives and administrators. This case will be going to arbitration. The union is asking for rehire and restitution of wages.

Q How does this situation make you feel about teaching as a part-timer? 
A I love my work; but I’m realizing how little people know about what happens to part-timers, the actual experience of job insecurity and disposability. This really came out in our print materials, on our website, and at the Board of Trustees meetings. We know we’re helping people recognize the importance of a good contract and a strong union, especially for part-timers.

Q What advice would you give to other part-timers?
Know your strengths and don’t get intimidated. Inform your union reps about what’s happening to you, and document it all. Keep your focus on your emotional well-being and on the larger picture — our rights as part-time faculty.

— Interview by Linda Sneed

Know your rights

To maintain stable teaching ranks, many local unions have negotiated some form of rehire rights or preference hiring for part-time faculty in the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the district. 
> Know your contract
> Inform your union representatives if the contract has been violated
> Document events in writing
> Don’t be intimidated into silence
> Keep public discourse focused on the issue

>Find detailed coverage of this case in the summary compiled by the Peralta Federation of Teachers