MSCA Perspective - February 2001
Campus Activism Publicizes Bargaining Stalemate
Teaching + Respect = Contract
Across our campuses Massachusetts State College faculty members have been engaged in local actions designed to inform our legislators, students, and the public about the working conditions for the faculty and librians and our stalled contact negotiations. This issue of MSCA Perspective highlights some of the grassroots activism of our membership to deliver these crucial messages.
MCLA Faculty Take Crisis Message to Wide Audience
When Sociology professor Maynard Seider spoke of a crisis during the spring semester opening breakfast in January at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, it wasn't what many administrators wanted to hear. The message from the new president of the Faculty Association was in contrast to the traditionally upbeat message delivered by the college president. "It's important that we not cover up the real problems that affect our campus," Seider said, "not only the fact that we're in our third year without a negotiated contract, but that there are other problems that must be addressed."
Seider's message continued chapter efforts to send a serious message to a broad range of publics. In October the members of the Faculty Association asked chapter leaders to craft a plan for protest and communication. Members approved a statement of crisis, not only about lack of a contract, but about campus issues of low enrollment, budget cuts, and decision-making affecting academic programs.
In November, led by History Professor Dan Connerton, faculty started appearing during lunch hours on the sidewalk in front of the college with placards demanding a fair contract. "Respect" buttons reappeared, and almost overnight dozens of posters appeared in office windows and in hallways. On several instances students joined faculty on the picket line. During one march, a student led protesters in a chant calling for respect and a fair contract.
The picketing was just one piece of a larger campaign that resulted in front-page stories in the Berkshire Eagle, North Adams Transcript, and airing of the contract dispute by local radio, including WMAC, Northeast Public Radio. Faculty got campus support from the Beacon, the weekly student newspaper, in editorials and in front-page coverage of events.
Faculty also met with college trustees to explain positions on tenure and other issues. In October, chapter vice president Michele Ethier spoke at a Board of Trustees meeting and called on trustees for a statement of support. In response, the Board developed a statement, forwarded to the Board of Higher Education, urging a quick settlement of the contract dispute. In an informal meeting, several other faculty members spoke with trustees about areas of concern.
"We also took our case to our students," Seider said, "attending student government meetings to explain our position." Faculty hosted an evening teach-in on a wide range of issues affecting education, including tenure, funding, admissions policies and testing. "We were encouraged by the efforts of our students to hear how these issues affect them, and to join us in support," said Seider.
Recently the chapter reached out to gain the support of the other unions on campus, the Association of Professional Administrators (APA) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Members of the three unions are planning a spring event to honor faculty and employees for their service to the college.
"We look forward to working closely with Pat Markunas and the MSCA Bargaining Committee as we continue our struggle for a fair contract," Seider said.
Ben Jacques, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
Picketing at Framingham Educates Students and Administrators
The Framingham State College Union Action Committee was formed at the beginning of the Fall semester to find ways to actively protest the stalled contract negotiations. As a unit we decided on a few ground rules. Among other things, we decided that our actions should do no harm to the students and that we should refrain from personal attacks against any members of the administration. We sought to
- increase the solidarity among our unit members here at FSC
- educate the students about the facts of the negotiations
- form a coalition with the students to protest the stalled contract talks
- use this newly formed coalition to educate the general public and our elected officials about the faculty plight through visual demonstrations and an intensive letter writing campaign.
We accomplished the first three of our goals and made progress on the fourth. We had two demonstrations on campus and picketed three days a week all last semester. We set up a webpage to send emails and letters to the BHE, the Governor, and our legislators. You can find this site at: http://www.geocities.com/fscunionaction. During our weekly picketing we asked students to write postcards to the Governor and members of the BHE demanding action. We have stepped down from volunteer activities and picket every administrative function on campus. We would love to hear what other campuses are doing and are ready to form ties with the rest of the coalition.
Roger Morrissette, Framingham State College
Salem Profesors Protest at BHE Meeting
An enthusiastic gathering of over 100 Salem/MSCA members picketed at the monthly meeting of the Board of Higher Education on December 5, 2000. The action was widely covered in the local media. The Lynn Item quoted Salem chapter president Paul McGee, "We wanted to make sure they heard from us and from the librarians. We haven't had a contract since June 30, 1998. We've been at the bargaining table for 34 or 35 months, and although we've made some progress, there are three big issues still out there." The Salem Evening News also reported the substance of faculty concerns. Reporter Tom Dalton wrote: "The remaining issues concern a new post-tenure review proposal, merit pay, and Internet property rights for faculty work, and salary issues. The average union facuty member has worked 14 years and is paid $49,000." Coverage of the action and photographs were posted on the MSCA website. The chapter continues to work with the local press to publicize our issues.
Patricia Johnston, Salem State College
Fitchburg Faculty Organize Letter Writing
At Fitchburg State College, Richard Bisk, Rod Christy, Christine Cosgrove, Peter Hogan, Margot Kempers, and Paul Weizer organized a letter writing campaign calling for a speedy and equitable settlement of the MSCA contract. The campaign encouraged unit members to write to their State Representatives, Senators, newspapers, the Board of Higher Education. Supporting material for the campaign included a chart comparing the salaries at Fitchburg State College with peer colleges.
A sample letter distributed as part of the campaign focused on several key points:
- State college faculty members are now in their third year without a new contract.
- Faculty salaries are not competitive with peer institutions as defined by the BHE. In this tight labor market, competitors are offering substantially higher salaries, which makes it difficult for our state colleges to attract and retain a talented teaching staff. Put simply, they are at a competitive disadvantage.
- It's true that tuition has not been raised, resources are limited, and the BHE has an obligation to see that public funds are used efficiently. By its own definition, however, the BHE also has an obligation "To ensure that all institutions offering collegiate levels of education meet the highest possible levels of quality and receive resources necessary to support that level of quality." It is impossible for the board to fulfill these obligations without a settled contract.
- The benefits of a settled contract extend well beyond the faculty member. State colleges provide your constituents with excellent, accessible, and affordable life-long learning opportunities that enable them to become personally and professionally responsible citizens. These same students also provide Massachusetts employers with a primary source of teachers, nurses, high-tech, and other professional workers.
Ben Lieberman, Fitchburg State College
Actions at Bridgewater Get Out the Message
The Bridgewater MSCA chapter has been actively publicizing MSCA issues, including the following:
- Placed an ad in the South Weekly section of the Boston Globe alerting readers that our uncompetitive salaries place their futures in jeopardy and asking, "Where's Your Outrage?"
- Held two picketing sessions, and placed some pictures on the chapter web site at http://mscaunion.org/~bridgew
- Worked very hard on a legislative initiative (for which Executive Committee Member George Serra deserves special recognition). Before winter break, we asked U.S. Congressman Barney Frank for help, and he came through for us Big Time! At his urging, every member of the Massachusetts delegation to the United States Senate and House of Representatives signed a letter to the Governor urging him to end the bargaining impasse. The letter read in part: "We believe that Massachusetts State College faculty members deserve a significant pay increase, because of the quality and the importance of the work they do. We are proud of the excellent work that the state colleges in our districts do to prepare our students both intellectually and professionally, and we believe as you do that having these institutions function at the highest possible level is very important to maintaining the quality of economic and cultural life in Massachusetts.
- Sent letters, with the COP salary study attached, to every member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate seeking their help.
- Sent press releases outlining all of our activities went to the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, and to our regional newspapers..
- Along with members statewide barraged the State House with phone calls urging that our 3% /1% agreement be funded.
- Distributed leaflets at Winter Commencement.
Jean Stonehouse, Bridgewater State College