Before the election our focus was on leadership development,” says Mia McIver, vice president for organizing for the University Council-AFT, “and the election brought us a sense of new urgency.” Strong leaders will provide the underpinning for the campaigns the union will undertake as it faces the Trump administration and a predictable tsunami of anti-union and anti-education measures.

Twelve members recruited as organizing fellows last year were trained to lead workshops on their home campuses, develop local activists and brainstorm ideas for increasing the power of the union. The program was funded by a grant from the CFT.

On January 28, lecturers and librarians got together to coordinate a statewide campaign plan. That includes several elements, McIver explains. “We are building coalitions, lobbying our legislators, developing stronger community relations, and exercising the rights we already have, especially in terms of academic freedom and job security.”

The greatest threat to the union is a new court case that will again challenge agency fees, as the Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association case did last year. The contract between the UC-AFT and the university contains a clause stating that employees in the bargaining unit who are not members of the union and not paying dues shall, as a continued condition of employment, be required to pay a fair share service fee to the union.

We really want to connect with the issues we know people care about, and to a sense of a greater purpose beyond education and labor issues.

“Loss of the agency fee is extremely important to our union,” McIver warns. “It is an existential threat.” The Friedrichs case sought to bar the fee, and it went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Previously the court found, in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that all employees who benefit from the provisions of a collective bargaining agreement — including non-members — must pay their “fair share” of the costs of bargaining wages, benefits and working conditions, and representing employees in grievances.

After Judge Antonin Scalia died, the court split 4-4, in effect upholding agency fees. New cases have already been filed which will undoubtedly go to the Supreme Court as well, however. After the Republican-dominated Congress refused to hold a vote on President Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia, within days of taking office President Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch as a replacement. It is widely believed he would overturn the Abood decision and bar agency fees.

The UC-AFT organizing strategy is not waiting for the decision. “We’ve developed commitment cards, in which lecturers and librarians say they’re sticking with the union,” McIver says. Activists are developing their arguments to persuade members, and non-members alike of the union’s importance, and the way agency fee money helps finance organizing and representation.

“We really want to connect with the issues we know people care about, and to a sense of a greater purpose beyond education and labor issues,” she explains. “Our members are generally very opposed to Trump’s immigration orders, so we try to show that one value of the union is that it gives people a structure for working on political issues. It’s like saying, ‘Are you opposed to this? Then come work with us.’ The same is true for the way people see the appointment of Betsy DeVos as a threat.”

The UC-AFT has also concentrated on the fights that affect members directly. “We just had a big victory at UCLA,” McIver enthuses, “where the university tried to remove 13 librarians from the bargaining unit. The PERB decision in our favor was so strong that the administration didn’t even try to appeal it.” (See opposite page)

The union’s organizing strategy isn’t just a defensive one, however, and is moving beyond the lecturer and librarian bargaining units it has historically represented. Recently 94 percent of the 50 teachers at the Preuss School, a grade 6-12 school for low-income students on the UC San Diego campus, chose UC-AFT in a card check process. The union already represents teachers at the similar Lab School at UCLA.

“There are other groups of non-represented faculty on UC campuses,” McIver says, “including visiting assistant professors, adjuncts [a very specialized title in the UC system] and others. Where there is interest we look forward to working with people, and given our members’ creativity, I’m sure we’ll be hearing more soon.”

— By David Bacon, CFT Reporter

UC-AFT wins significant ruling in support of librarians

Since 2013, the library administration at UCLA has contended that 13 librarian positions should be removed from the bargaining unit on the grounds that they are “supervisory,” as defined by the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act. Eventually the university filed a claim with the Public Employee Relations Board to remove the positions and incumbents from the bargaining unit. 

The case went before a PERB hearing officer a year ago. UC-AFT argued that the duties singled out by UCLA as supervisory did not meet the legal definition under HEERA. In January, PERB decided in favor of UC-AFT and ruled that all 13 positions will remain in the bargaining unit — a significant victory in the union’s fight to maintain the professional status of librarians at the University of California.