Friday, November 03, 2006

[olympiaworkers] Evergreen Faculty go Union!!

This article was originally published in the Cooper Point Journal.

Unionization of Evergreen faculty

By Ian Humphrey

A small gathering was held in Red Square this Tuesday announcing the
unionization of our school's faculty. The union is called the United
Faculty of Evergreen (UFE), and is a branch of the United Faculty of
Washington State. Approximately twenty five people, two of whom looked
younger then thirty, watched as the announcement was made while costumed
students paraded past.
Laurie Meeker, a faculty organizer and film professor announced that,
"with an 82% attendance rate, the vote to unionize had won with a 55% to
45% majority." They promised to "form a faculty union to protect our
best traditions of collaborative governance and to strengthen their
ability, as faculty, to have a voice in the future of public higher
education in our state." They spoke, as well, about "addressing real
issues and problems."
In an interview, Nancy Allen, a humanities professor, said that this is
not the first time that a teacher's union has existed on campus. She
recalled serving one year as president of this union, the AFT. However,
because they did not have the ability to bargain with the
administration, the AFT "petered out after 10 years." Allen said that
"it was little more then a teacher's group."
What makes the UFE different is that in 2002 the state of Washington
passed a bill allowing employees to bargain collectively. This meant
that the teachers, if they chose to unionize, could make decisions
rather then recommendations when dealing with the administration.
Unionization was first officially by the Faculty Governance DTF in two
meetings held in spring of 2006. Two follow up meetings were held over
orientation week leading up to the vote on Tuesday.
The argument about whether or not to unionize was based on three concerns.
Supporters hoped unionization would give more bargaining power over faculty
salaries. Brian Walter, Chairman of the Agenda committee, said in an
interview that the salary paid to faculty at TESC is "the lowest among
public state schools." He added later that the difference in salary was
Another concern was the recommendations made by DTFs (Disappearing Task
Forces), particularly having to do with growth. In 2005, the Enrollment
Growth DTF decided that the student body needed to grow by five thousand
people. The Faculty Governance DTF decided that they would be unable to
guarantee such a growth immediately but would be able to do so in
increments, the first one being 300 people. Citing Evergreen's
curriculum structure and its commitment to a low student teacher ratio,
the Faculty Governance DTF was unsure about how to allocate the
additional faculty required for such a leap.
The Enrollment Growth DTF also said that in order to draw more people
there would need to be more offerings available to prospective students,
specifically focusing on business and health studies which, in the words
of Nancy Allen, "made the faculty nervous" worried that "Evergreen might
lose its atmosphere."
The faculty voted to wait until fall of 2005 before making any final
decisions. The faculty was only able to make a recommendation, however,
so the actual choice was left to the administration, who decided to move
forward with the project. The teachers were hired and are working here
now. This intensified union discussions amongst the faculty. Rachel
Hastings, a humanities teacher in her second year here, noted that this
"made a lot more people come forward" in the arguments over
Those arguing against unionization were concerned that the "buddy buddy"
relationship between the faculty and the administration might suffer. Many
felt that this might create an "us versus them" environment. One
particular concern was that the new administration/union dynamic would put
the rotating dean system at risk.
At most colleges, once one is appointed a dean you have left the ranks
of the teachers forever. However, the Evergreen State College Faculty
Handbook says deans are "solicited from within the faculty," and serve
three and four year deanships, allowing them to rotate in and out of the
Allen broke down the votes, saying, "If you thought the administration
was cool of part of the gang, you voted for the union, but if you felt
the administration wasn't representing you, then you voted union."
The students have thus far been largely silent on the issue. Those who
were interviewed were surprised to hear about it at all. "I didn't
know," said Bernard Feinsod, a Freshman here. "I'm surprised no one's
really talking about it."

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