Sunday, October 30, 2011

Busy at Strike Headquarters

While no one wants to strike, the unions have been put in the position of moving forward with strike preparations. This includes opening up a strike headquarters. The headquarrters is in part of the old Carbondale Community High School, located on the corner of Oakland Avenue and High Street. It is an interesting location for labor action coordination.  I believe back in the early 80's the teachers at this school rose up to strike against unfair labor conditions; I haven't found confirmation of the details, but I've heard several locals comment on this history.  I certainly feel an energy of solidarity and collaboration filling our new space.  After the break, I'll offer some more comments and visual evidence of that spark.
One of the classrooms the unions have available to them includes a mural celebrating the contributions of Latino/as to this country.  Central to and dominating the image is César Chávez and his contributions to organized labor.  While no one is claiming that the working conditions at SIUC are anything like those endured by the migrant farm workers Chávez organized, it is important to remember the power of organized labor to stand up to those more concerned with the bottom line.  Without a strong labor organization, management will usually exploit workers to maximize profits.  Working under this mural is a reminder to all members and supporters of the four unions why we work together and what we are working for.

Some often ask if being a chapter of a bigger union like the NEA is worth it.  Those dues, after all, are expensive and a hard sacrifice for many to make.  Most of the time we don't see much return on that investment.  For sure, some of the return is largely invisible to the membership.  Negotiating contracts involves professional legal and financial advice.  Other "benefits" only really manifest in a time of crisis.  The union is able to pay the rent on the strike headquarters, provide material and logistics for organizing a strike, pull together office supplies and equipment, and organize a media center like the one pictured here.  It might be better to consider union dues a kind of insurance.  In the time I have spent this past week volunteering to help get the headquarters up and running, I truly believe I have seen my dues money at work.

But the point isn't just about what the union does for me; it's about what we do as a union. I have seen folks "stepping up" and volunteering their time, energy, and skills to come together in common cause.  I have seen folks openly discuss and dispute tactics.  I have seen our mechanisms for arriving at some kind of agreement on those tactics work, although I also recognize that not all of us agree on what is appropriate or inappropriate in this strike.  The point is, though, that we are able to talk about it in an organized way and move forward.  The larger point is that there is so much creative energy pulling together to share a common cause.  In all honesty, I have felt a stronger sense of community across colleges and across bargaining units in doing this work with the unions than I ever have as part of the regular work of the university.

In the end, maybe that is the biggest point.  It is unfortunate that it takes a desperate and adversarial relationship with an Administration that has lost our trust to bring out this kind of solidarity, this kind of community.  I look at these union folks from nearly all levels of the university, and I see the creativity and the brainpower to really make SIUC a great place to work and an internationally significant center of higher education.  I can't help but wonder what would happen if an Administration chose to work with these people instead of always standing so firmly against them.  What would happen if the Administration used this talent instead of regularly outsourcing our image and other key functions of the university to others, and at great expense?  Rather than fear or fight this collective, the Administration should encourage it, work with it, and recognize the hunger for community and active, meaningful involvement it represents.


  1. Jonny:
    Again, this is another excellent post. I also sense a lot of energy right now. The only reason I am at an academic institution is to provide quality education to our students (not money). I will do whatever it takes to protect the quality of education. Yes, the strike may cause temporary disruption for our students but long term they will gain a lot. Here is my message to our students and their parents: “Teachers, not administration, provides the education you and your kids need. Unfortunately our administrators do not know this. Please stand with us and we will make sure you and your kids get what you paid for and we promised to deliver.”

  2. Great post Jonny. What's the best way or contact person to sign up for volunteering and/or picket duty? And was there talk at the all-union meeting about the (dangerous) possibility of the administration settling with one union and not the others? Should this happen, what is the best way to continue to provide solid, meaningful support all around--would the 'settled' union cross picket lines? What options would they have? Since members would not be 'covered' for a 'sympathy' strike, how are folk thinking through that possibility?

  3. I've been wondering about the points Elyse brought up as well... I think it's important, if possible, to come up with some kind of statement of mutual support between/among the unions, and make that statement as public as possible. Make it clear to the public & the admin that we really are in this together & that settling with one or two unions won't stop the fight for all.

    Although we're forced to "fight our own battles" when it comes to our actual contracts, I strongly feel that this is part of a larger struggle for power. I'm not sure what kinds of actions could be taken legally, but I'm prepared to stand by the other union & union members.

  4. Elyse and Dani: This issue DID come up in Q&A on Friday. It was stated that legally the union that settled would not be able to continue picketing, but one of the bargaining team members stated that he, personally, would not cross a picket line. It was suggested that we could also join the picket line when we are not teaching our classes, or during lunch breaks, before/after work, etc.

    I, too, would like some guidance about this. As much as I abhor group-think and am independent-minded - and have undoubtedly annoyed some of you on this website - when it actually comes to a strike, I feel really uncomfortable about crossing someone's picket line. That just seems wrong to me. So, if the FA settles and the other three do not, what alternative avenues do I have to teach my classes?

  5. If I signed up for strike picketing activity, if it comes to that, when should I expect to be contacted?

  6. The official guidance is posted on the FA Strike FAQ update.

    "20. What if my union settles before the other three? How will we support their strike?

    Illinois education labor law does not permit us to participate in sympathy strikes, but we still can support the other unions in other ways. We can write the press and the Board of Trustees to encourage the administration to settle with ALL of the unions. We can refuse to do strikers’ work when pressured by the administration. We can join them on the picket line during our off-work hours."

    Strike headquarters has bright yellow "I Support SIUC Unions" fliers that you can post in your car, your apartment window, or any other appropriate spot to make your support visible. It also has bright green buttons that can be worn for the same purpose.

    I know some non-IEA employees of SIU who are planning to bring us hot chocolate and snacks on the picket line, should it come to a strike.

    From another question in the FAQ, "Solidarity can take as many forms as your creativity allows."

  7. Wonderful posting, Johnny!

  8. So, from what paranoid said, it sounds like once the administration settles with the FA, that leaves the NTT, civil service, and grad students on their own? How many of you FA strikers are going to cross the picket lines of those still left striking? My guess - most of you.

  9. "How many of you FA strikers are going to cross the picket lines of those still left striking? My guess - most of you."

    Presuming FA settles first, then we would have a contract with a no-strike (and hopefully) no-layoff clause. Sympathy strikes are illegal so Jonny is correct: we would have to cross their picket lines OR members would have to vote NOT to settle with a good contract until all unions got what they wanted. But that's not how it works, in practice. Some of us recall an earlier vote (early 2000s) when we knew there were going to be layoffs and FA members voted in favor of a no-strike, no-layoff contract with 3% raises. The people laid off were from the other unions.

    Solidarity may take many forms but, ultimately, there are differing interests.

  10. Elyse and others, if you are looking for the person to contact about volunteering for picket/help duties, George Bricker is coordinating the strike activities. He can be contacted at georgerbricker(at)yahoo(dot)com.

    There is another picket captain training session Tuesday night at 6 in the Strike Headquarters. You don't have to be a captain to go to that. If you do go to that, be prepared to be confused and overhwelmed at first, but stick with it. The plan anticipates a long strike but comes on strong in the beginning (hoping for a short strike). Each squad has a fair amount of autonomy, but you have to make sense of the plan for where to be and when to be on the line. With many sites to cover on and off the main campus and trying to stagger breaks, it is a bit of a logistical nightmare.

    Once you are assigned to a "squad," your picket captain will be your main contact.

    As for the other question about one union settling before the others, that has already been addressed. The unions cannot sympathy strike. You may, as an individual, choose not to cross the picket line, but you will likely be held accountable by your employer for not doing your work. And, of course, there are other ways to show support and solidarity as outlined by others above.

    While some members of the different unions felt differently, the leaders and negotiators were all on the same page about congratulating the union(s) that settle(s) and hoping they will continue to support the striking unions as they are legally able.

  11. Since Bean is quite happy for tenure to go, I think we should view his posts according to his particular type of ideology.

  12. When has the good Dr. Bean ever stated such a position?

  13. We are in the process of finalizing picketing plans, and those who signed up to work as pickets should be contacted in the next couple of days. There is a training session Tuesday at 6 pm at Strike HQ; while training isn't necessary (unless one is signed up as a "picket captain"), it is helpful. There will be further information on picketing at the 4 local union meeting Wednesday at 8pm at Strike HQ, which all who signed up to picket are encouraged to attend. (Again, we all hope this meeting will turn into a party celebrating tentative agreements for all 4 locals, but we will be prepared for a less happy situation.)

    If all else fails, simply show up at any picket point on Thursday morning; picket captains will be able to provide you with information on what to do next.

    To the coalition issue. The four locals have long understood that while we share many of the same issues and concerns, we are independent groups that must represent our own members. At least one huge issue unites all outside GAU: the threat furlough days pose to our collective bargaining rights. The administration's ability to impose furloughs robs any salary agreement in a contract virtually meaningless. Presumably if one local "solves" this issue, all the locals (save GAU) would be offered the same solution. While salaries aren't the central issue, they tend to move in synch, and ACsE has asked for the same raise the FA gets--yet another connection. Job security, in different forms, is another common link. So while it is entirely possible that one local will settle before others, success for one local may well augur success for the others (rather than being a sign of a divide and conquer strategy).

    In the event one local settles, its members will still have many legal means available to support their fellow unions: picketing on off-duty hours, pitching in at strike headquarters, vocal support in the media and community, etc. Refusal to cross another local's picket line would be an example of civil disobedience; this isn't something the IEA or its locals, with their scrupulous attention to legality, are going to plan or authorize, but it is clearly available as a matter of individual conscience, and with the attendant risks, for any who choose it.

  14. One more thing in response to Anon. 4:52 PM and Dr. Bean:

    It could well be that the other locals will settle first, and the FA will be the group left out on its own.

    I won't begrudge the GAs, civil servants, or NTTs for crossing my picket line and hope that they won't begrudge me if my union settles first and I cross theirs. But I say that with the knowledge that when I voted for a strike authorization for the FA, I committed to myself that I would continue to assist them even if my union settles long before theirs.

  15. Paranoid, you're kidding yourself if you think the administration settles with those groups first. That's not the smart play, and everyone knows it. I wonder how the faculty are going to feel when there's no one to teach those discussion sections, and they aren't getting their paychecks because there's no one over in Payroll to process the paperwork? But, I'm sure that many of you will be picketing in your off hours and volunteering in support of your fellow workers. In fact, I'm certain of it.

  16. "and everyone knows it"

    Uh, does that make me not a person because I don't know that?

    I won't be surprised if the administration tries to pit the unions against each other, it isn't obvious to me which tactic would be best for the administration.

    Do they leave the FA out on their own because they have the highest incomes and lowest ability to get sympathy from the public? The administration's general reluctance to discuss the issues of the other three locals suggests they would play it this way.

    Do they leave the GAU, NTTFA, and ACsE on their own because they are the most vulnerable and can be more easily pressured once the FA signs a contract? The slow pace of bargaining for the three locals other than the FA suggests they would play it this way.

    I'm ready to bet that they will do one of these things, but I'm not ready to bet which one they will do.

  17. Can I return a Library book if the library is being picketed?

  18. If you are willing to cross a picket line, you can still return your library book. Of course, it would be simpler to renew the book now or to return it by midnight Wed. night if the contracts are not settled by then.

    From the Chancellor's strike FAQ for students (
    "Will I be forced to cross a picket line at anytime while on campus?

    By law, strikers may not deny students or others freedom of movement, the use of the property or facilities of the University, the right of ingress or egress to University facilities or disrupt the pursuit of educational activities at the University. Further, the University is working to ensure that students are comfortable entering or exiting the campus and in attending classes."

  19. Two observations from an outsider looking in.

    All the adminisration really needs to do is settle with the FA. The other three groups will quickly fall in line. Either that, or they'll be on strike for a quite a long time.

    I mean, really, none of this stuff is worth striking over. Because the administration doesn't want to give the FA the power to determine if the university should declare financial exigency you say Cheng is an evil dictator? And that tenure is at stake? C'mon.

    The other is that it could be, that yes, the administration does want a strike. If the administration can make it through the end of the semester, issue grades, hold finals and a commencement...the FA is history. Basically, we're talking about four weeks.


    Be careful of what you wish for. You guys have more power by NOT going on strike.

  20. One easy way to continue to work AND not cross a picket line is to have classes meet somewhere off campus. This is harder with large lecture classes, I know, but at least provides a start!

  21. If the unions are pushed to strike, the students' education will be compromised. Would this give the students grounds to sue the university? If the Administration settles with the Faculty but not the other three unions, if will reflect quite poorly on the University.

    Check out the WSIU Morning Conversation with President Poshard. He seemed just a tad enervated.

  22. The University is not going to settle with the others. While they have been meeting with the FA twice daily since the strike announcement, they have met with the NTT folks once. Once they settle with the FA, the NTT, civil service, and GAs are going to be kneecapped.

  23. Would it be easier to get people on the administration side to see things more favorably by framing the issue in terms of what does NOT count as "financial exigency"? I am sure that there can be agreement on a range of scenarios or situations.

  24. To 9:58: Of course, the others will be kneecapped. And the FA will help do it.

  25. Anon: 9: 58 - Go back to watching your Bruce Willis movies and remain in FANTASY ISLAND where you belong.

  26. Perhaps this is the wrong venue for the question, but what about students who wish to acknowledge a strike? I am a student here and a student in one of my classes said "I come from a strong union family and I ain't crossin' no picket line" What about those students? Will their grades suffer for not attending class? It would be unfair, I think, to punish those students for following their teachers onto the picket lines. While they have no dog in the fight, I can see where they are coming from.

    I will not be following you all to the picket line but would like to see anonymous at 9:51 addressed. There is an issue with me getting what I paid for. After all, I'll have $60,000 in student loans when I graduate and some are at 10% interest! I'm not forking over those kind of dollars to be taught by substitutes. I'll feel duped by false advertising when you all go on strike.

    Comically, why are you picketing in November? It's going to be cold soon. Should have picked a more mild September/October.

    Of course I assert my opinion with all due respect to all of those involved.

  27. Quiet One says....

    Students who don't go to class during the strike are in the same boat as those who don't go when there isn't a strike. Syllabi are fairly clear about absences and incompleted work.

    Alternatively...students who go to class during the strike and do the work assigned and receive a grade by a non-striking substitute might find that grade in consequential should the striking professor return and punish the student.

  28. How exactly are striking faculty going to enforce any attendance policy that they may have against their students? If you aren't in class, how can you know who was there? And even if you did know, how could you expect them to do work or attend classes, while you do not?

  29. Jason Vollmer and other students.

    It's a good question, but one I am not qualified to answer (re: suing the university). You (or rather your union family friends) are in a hard place. We know that. And we don't, for our part, play a role in putting you there lightly. For over 485 days we have tried to find a way not to do this! But our Administration is willing either to wait us out or keep us in a perpetual state of unresolved negotiation. And up until a month ago, they wouldn't budge an inch.

    Your strongest, best option is to complain loudly and frequently to the leadership on this campus. They, ultimately, are responsible for these deplorable conditions. If you listened to President Poshard this morning, he as much as said that the Administration has prioritized marketing campaigns, questionable retention efforts, and developing new (legacy?) programs over resolving this labor dispute. That's a little like ignoring a sucking chest wound in favor of putting a bandage on a stubbed toe. Does that sound like good leadership to you?

  30. "Anonymous said...

    Since Bean is quite happy for tenure to go, I think we should view his posts according to his particular type of ideology."

    Precious, just precious. Now I know I am against tenure because of my classical liberal ideology? Thanks for letting me know where I stand because I was ignorant of my unconscious anti-tenure position. I feel like singing Amazing Tenure (to the tune of "Amazing Grace"):

    "Amazing Tenure, how sweet the sound,
    That saved a wretch like me.
    I once was lost but now am found,
    Was blind, but now I see.

    T'was Tenure that taught my heart to fear.
    And Tenure, my fears relieved.
    How precious did that Tenure appear
    The hour I first believed."

    I'm saved, saved!

  31. To Anonymous October 30, 2011 7:09 PM:

    I wish I would have made a bet with you.


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