A moving story in the Nation about an Ohio Union transformed by the Obama campaign. The message? We are ALL workers–it's not about race. It's time for Labor to unite and transcend racial and ethinic differences. Here is the link.
NYSUT's newsletter, New York Teacher, ran an article celebrating the new contract. Here is the link.
Two representatives from NYSUT attended our Union meeting on November 5 to explain many of the benefits of Union membership. These include discounts (computers, books, office supplies, music and video equipment, car rentals, movie and theater tickets), additional insurance plans (disability, catastrophic coverage, rental, long-term care), and banking (savings and CD's) at favorable rates. Get more information by clicking on THIS LINK , or stop by the Union office (110 North Hall) to pick up fliers. The website address is www.memberbenefits.nysut.org.
UNION MEMBERSHIP VS. AGENCY FEE
At the meeting, there was also more discussion of what can be a confusing issue: what is the difference between checking off "agency fee" as opposed to "union member" on the yellow form distributed at the beginning of the semester?
First, a little history. The first Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) at Pratt was signed in 1973. From that time, until the most recent CBA (signed in 2008), membership in the Union was optional. Faculty members had to elect to join and have Union dues deducted from their paychecks. At the same time, even though only some faculty members joined the Union and paid dues, ALL faculty benefited from the protections and benefits enshrined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. For example, whether or not a faculty member had joined the Union and paid dues, the Union would gladly and willingly represent that faculty member in the grievance process. More fundamentally, that faculty member's rights were enshrined in the CBA, protected, defended, and kept vital by the vigilance of the Union. In short, a situation existed in which half (or fewer) faculty members were supporting a Union, in financial and other ways, that worked on behalf of ALL the faculty.
I should add that a tremendous amount of the Union's energy and effort during this long period was continually directed towards gaining new members. This was especially difficult in Pratt's part-time heavy environment, wherein a huge percentage of faculty are "visiting" and thus may only teach one course. It was, quite simply, difficult to track down a faculty member who was on campus once a week, and who may have skipped semesters. In short, the membership drive was an all-consuming Sisyphean task.
In the historic negotiation that took place in 2007, the UFCT 1460 obtained the right to ask for an "agency fee" from those faculty members who choose not to join the Union but who still benefit from the work of the Union and Union protection. The agency fee represents an acknowledgment that even if a faculty member chooses not to become a Union member, he or she continues to benefit from the presence and work of the Union. Because the agency fee and Union dues are initially equivalent (the agency fee payer can apply for a refund of monies used for political activity by the parent Union at the end of the school year), it makes logical sense to join the Union because of the additional rights and benefits that come with Union membership that do not come with electing to pay the agency fee.
The rights of a Union member differ from those of an agency fee payer. The Union member can actively participate in the Union, helping to determine its direction and future. The Union member can attend Union meetings, agitate for issues to be brought to the negotiating table, participate in Union elections either as a voter or as a candidate, and vote to approve or reject the CBA. The agency fee payer is excluded from these activities. Becoming a Union member gives the faculty member a VOICE.
In The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau makes a distinction between the "subject" and the "citizen" that has some resonance here. He writes: "With regard to the associates [those people who come together to create a sovereign state], they take collectively the name of people, and are called individually citizens, inasmuch as they PARTICIPATE in the sovereign power, and subjects, inasmuch as they are SUBJECTED TO the laws of the State."
Electing to become a Union member gives you the rights of the citizen; the agency fee gives one the rights of a subject. The choice is clear.
Another point: this is a confusing time of transition in the history our Union. No question is too stupid. Please call the Union office at (178) 636-3614, or write directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with ANY questions.
UFCT 1460 Vice President
Associate Professor English & Humanities