‘Strike School’ in Session: California Faculty Association Prepares for April Strike

By James Anderson

The Board for the California Faculty Association, the union representing some 23,000 professors, lecturers and other educators across the California State University system, passed a resolution on February 5 to authorize a strike across all 23 CSU campuses on April 13-15 and April 18-19. To prepare to shut down school those five days this spring, the CFA held a ‘Strike School’ session on the California State University San Marcos campus in early February.

CFA Strike SchoolThe Strike School featured several CFA officers teaching and learning from their fellow faculty about what to expect should the five-day strike take place if the union and CSU management reach the end of the statutory process without an agreement. The Strike School is just one event in the union’s ongoing “Fight for Five” campaign that has been underway since last summer when the CSU management rejected the CFA’s proposals for a five percent raise for all faculty and for a 2.65 percent service salary increase for those eligible.

Darel Engen, the CFA chapter president at CSUSM, told Strike School students – some 50 plus faculty who crowded into CSUSM’s University Hall 440 February 9 – the five percent is actually “restoration of lost pay,” a recouping of the 11 percent raise faculty were unable to garner back in 2006.

The five day strike, he said, was chosen in lieu of withholding of labor indefinitely and instead of a strike specified for a shorter period of time, like one day or two, not only because it echoes the Fight for Five rallying cry. The choice was intended to be strategic, Engen explained, as the action should show the university the union is serious without derailing students’ plans to graduate in May. It also enables faculty to “keep something in reserve,” Engen added, so that another action could take place during the fall semester if necessary.

Salary negotiations – or, more accurately, lack thereof – have obliged the union to put such options on the table.

A series of studies conducted last year by the CFA, titled “Race to the Bottom,” show CSU faculty are paid less than their university peers throughout the state. The studies illustrate how both fees charged students and administrative salaries have increased while faculty pay has stagnated.

A FAQ sheet distributed during the Strike School on the San Marcos campus reiterated that the recession following the global financial crash of 2007-09 never ended for CSU faculty.

“Our salaries have been flat and have not kept up with inflation,” the sheet circulating among faculty stated. “When times were bad we tightened our belts, and now that times are good” – the university was recently in receipt of a $97 million budget augmentation – “we’re asked to continue to wait.”

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Update from Eastern Illinois University

We are now 8 ½ months into our fiscal year without any money from the state. In addition to not having our regular appropriation from the state, the University chose to fund the MAP awards which were promised to students, and the state hasn’t paid any of those costs, either. On top of those problems, several years of rapidly declining enrollment have exhausted most of our reserve funds.

As a result, EIU has been forced to give unpaid ‘furlough’ days to all administrative personnel, and to lay off 177 civil service workers from across campus. Almost all spending accounts have been frozen, and our remaining reserves are being drained. Despite all these drastic cuts, the administration still needs approximately $2 million to make it through the semester, and it has asked faculty to take a large voluntary pay cut (which might or might not be reimbursed, depending on the level of state funding that comes in the future). The results of that vote will be released on the 15th, although leaders of the faculty union have promised that if the proposal fails they will bring forward a new proposal of their own which will still provide the university with the needed $2 million under terms that are more equitable.

At this point, the harm to students has been minimized as much as possible, and many of the reductions can be reversed if a funding bill is passed. The President of the University has committed himself to keeping the university open not just for the rest of the year but for next year as well, although truly devastating cuts would be needed if no appropriations have been received by the Fall.

-Grant Sterling, VP of the EIU chapter of University Professionals of Illinois

Bargaining Update

Your GAU bargaining team has been meeting regularly with the administration. It has been a difficult environment in which to bargain with the collapse of the state budget under Governor Bruce Rauner. Nevertheless there has been progress made and we are fairly close to finishing.

After consulting with the officers and department stewards of GAU your team presented a package proposal to wrap up all the remaining issues in one shot. We presented ours February 11.

As part of the package considering the financial state of the university we asked for no raise and instead focused on fee relief as that has consistently been what you have said is the most important issue. On March 10 we received a response from the administration which was their package. The good news what that it was clear they were making a serious effort to come to an agreement with us, however there is still some distance to go.

The main remaining issues revolve around the cost of fees, funding caps on the number of semesters GAs are funded, how summer tuition waivers work, and vacation leave (as for 12 month appointed GAs it may be hard to get time to visit their families at home – especially for international grads).

-GAU Bargaining Team

Home Care Workers in NYC Take Fight for 15 Personally

By James Anderson

Patricia O’Hara had just finished caring for a man suffering from Parkinson’s disease and was waiting for the train to take her back to Brooklyn when she explained why she got into the home care industry.

Her father also had Parkinson’s. Before O’Hara’s dad died in December 2008, she accompanied him as he navigated the US health care system, trying to get quality treatment covered at affordable cost.

O’Hara herself was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2006. When she discussed with friends her struggle to get cancer treatments covered, she said her friends would always comment they thought she had good insurance. She “thought so too,” she would add, until she got sick.

“A lot of times you have to fight to get what you need,” she said.

O’Hara, who works for Partners in Care, a private home care service with an office in Manhattan, became a member of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the largest healthcare union in the nation, as soon as she was eligible to join.

She and 1199SEIU have been engaged for some time now in the Fight for 15, the nationwide campaign to obtain a living wage of $15 an hour for workers in the service industries and other occupations where wages have stagnated.

From precariously employed adjunct professors, to airport personnel and Wal-Mart clerks, the campaign cuts across large sections of the underpaid working class, including the 60,000 workers who walked off their jobs in more than 200 cities last April to demand a higher minimum wage.

While several cities and municipalities across the country have passed legislation mandating a living wage, 1199SEIU wants to make New York the first state to enact a statewide $15 per hour law.

O’Hara makes $10 an hour, which the SEIU says is standard pay for the more than 200,000 home care workers in the greater New York City area.

Prior to being diagnosed with cancer and before her father’s illness worsened, both of which prompted her occupational shift, O’Hara made more money. She worked for 25 years in the fashion industry. When people ask her for details about her previous job, she asks them if they have seen the movie “The Devil Wears Prada.”

“Well I was Anne Hathaway,” she explains.

While receiving cancer treatments early on, O’Hara said she kept telling herself it was all a bad dream. She realized, though, that she couldn’t continue to work in the high-paced fashion business.

After several rounds of chemotherapy, some radiation and then more chemo, she started to recover. O’Hara has been cancer free since 2007.

Her own health care treatment left her wanting to provide similar services, she said. The economic crisis of 2007-09 drastically reduced employment opportunities, however. She said she could not find a job doing administrative work in health care, probably because of her fashion background. Once she started at Partners In Care, she said, it was clear this line of work was far more rewarding, if also more of a struggle, than fashion.

The job can vary appreciably depending on the client. Some are bedridden and require constant assistance. Some just do not want to be left alone.

A government projections report released several years ago noted the number of people over age 65 in New York is expected to increase 44 percent from the number living there in 2000 to the number projected to live in the city by 2030. Home care, or caretaker work, is one of the fastest growing jobs in the state as a result, with increased demands transferred onto the workers.

O’Hara said 12 hour days are not uncommon. Nor are live-in arrangements. Overnight stays are also routine.

Mary Ellen Gibbs, 56, a home care worker employed by ElderServe, said her job duties consist of taking those she is assisting to appointments with their doctors, helping to keep them active and engaged in conversation, playing cards if they want to and interacting in such a way that makes their day more pleasant.

Unlike O’Hara, Gibbs, only recently became active with the union.

Like O’Hara, however, she experienced life trauma that led her to pursue a home care career and, the last few months, engage in the Fight for 15.

Having worked as a hairstylist for most of her adult life, she was out of work for three years after falling down a flight of stairs when it snowed outside and the elevator in her apartment was out.

At 49, she broke her shoulder and lost everything.

“I found myself home with no insurance or anything,” she said, “and I had to crawl on the floor and take care of myself. I had to reinvent myself and become this” – a home care worker – “because at 50 years old nobody is going to hire you. They say that they don’t discriminate, but at 50 years old, you apply online and people don’t see you and they don’t know how good you are.”

Her rent increased from $750 per month in 2004 to $1,510 per month at present. Gibbs, who lives in the Bronx, still makes $10 an hour, $11 on weekends.

“You would think at this point in my life I would be able to start relaxing, enjoying my life,” she said. “I’m working harder now than I ever did in my life.”

She has to keep plugging, she said, or she will get a call from landlord with an eviction notice. Or she will be taken to court for failing to pay the bills she often falls behind on now.

Higher wages for home care works have been shown to lead to greater retention of qualified staff, while low wages have been shown to undermine the continuity of patient relationships professionals consider critical for quality care.

Sometimes Gibbs, O’Hara and others help the elderly transition out of often more expensive nursing home living. They also make it possible for people to continue living in their own homes and eschew more costly nursing home options.

“Doesn’t everyone deserve a quality of life?” – O’Hara asked the question about those receiving care services, but New Yorkers claim the same could apply to the underpaid people providing that care too.

When the Occupy Wall Street movement made waves in New York back in 2011, many of the people who would send organizers in Zuccotti recordings or statements about why they were the “99%” worked in jobs like Gibbs and O’Hara. The people sending in clips and comments emphasized how they really wanted to work in a job where they could care for people, but they could not even care for themselves or their families because employers pay so little in those jobs.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose mother was a care worker, has spoken about the situation with SEIU members and voiced support for their struggle.

State Senator Jeff Klein, head of the Independent Democratic Conference in New York, recently called the labor of long-term caretakers “God’s work.”

Dave Bates, the Communications Director for 1199SEIU, points out that there are people doing such saintly work who nevertheless live in homeless shelters because they cannot afford rent in New York City when making $10 an hour.

Unionists have held marches from Columbus Circle to Time Square, demonstrations at Foley Square and marches to the state office building on 125th Street to demonstrate broad-based support for the fight.

Diane Holmes, 65, an 1199SEIU member and worker-owner at Cooperative Home Care Associates in the Bronx, said she enjoys the benefits of a worker co-op, like having a share in the company and exercising greater decision-making power on the job through participation in committees. Nevertheless, she added, the union’s campaign to raise the minimum wage remains crucial.

Holmes, who was born and raised in Harlem but moved to the Bronx as a young adult, started home care work in the 1980s. She has been with CHCA for six years, and she still makes $10 per hour.

She said she is only going to be able to do this work for one or two more years before she has to retire.

“But regardless,” Holmes added, fielding questions over the phone while getting her blood pressure taken at a local health clinic, “I’m going to go out with a fight and help to initiate this $15 an hour and anything else that I’m able to do because I’m in it to win it. I’m a thoroughbred. This is what we do in the union. We fight for this … to make it better for the home care workers as well as the health aides. So I will be doing this until I’m not.”

SEIU plans to run 50 to 100 buses to take thousands of home care and health care workers to Albany for a press conference at the capitol on March 15, in hopes of garnering enough support for a statewide minimum wage of $15 an hour to be passed on April 1.

Waiting for her train ride back to Brooklyn, O’Hara reiterated how much home care workers like herself often enjoy decent health care benefits yet still need to insist upon something more, like a minimum of $15 an hour, to live on.

“It’s not asking for much, but it’s a little better – a lot better,” she said.


James Anderson is a doctoral candidate in the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He taught two media studies classes in the Department of Communication at California State University San Marcos during the fall 2015 semester. He has been a member of several unions, including Graduate Assistants United, the California Faculty Association, UFCW Local 135, and the Industrial Workers of the World. While a Graduate Assistant at SIUC, he served as steward for his college and as co-chair for the Legislative and Political Action Committee. He was a long-time member of the GAU Communications Committee. He regularly contributed to the GAU website and newsletter. His academic writing has appeared in journals like Critical Studies in Media Communication and the International Review of Information Ethics. His journalistic work and editorials have been featured in news outlets including Truthout, In These Times, Toward Freedom, ROAR Magazine, ZNet and Counterpunch.



Letter from the President

Dear Members,

In an e-mail sent by Chancellor Colwell Wednesday afternoon, GAU was provided with details concerning budget scenarios should the state fail to pass a budget for fiscal year 17 until after the November election. Those preliminary details are as follows.

  • The elimination of more than 180 faculty, administrative professional and civil service staff positions
  • The elimination of 300 student employment positions
  • The merger of four colleges into two colleges

Additional clarification was provided by President Dunn in his System Connection newsletter including reduction in graduate assistantships as part of the elimination of student employment positions, reduction in funding for research programs including grant funded programs, and the complete elimination of state funded travel. PDFs of potential cuts as outlined in the system connection are attached to this message.

50% cuts PDF

25% cuts PDF

Concerning the implementation of these changes, the Chancellor stated the following:

“…should we find ourselves in the unwelcome position of having to implement any of these reductions, we would do so in compliance with contractual and collective bargaining agreements. Further, no specific colleges have been targeted for potential merger, as this would require larger campus discussion, and I want to stress that the merger of colleges would not directly translate into the elimination of academic degree programs.”

Upon receipt of this information, GAU has reached out to both President Dunn and Chancellor Colwell to obtain specific information concerning the impact of these budget scenarios upon the graduate student population and the implementation of the proposed cuts should these cuts be implemented. GAU will provide additional information concerning this situation to the membership as soon as it receives it.

Specifics of the scenarios are expected to be shared during President Dunn’s testimony in Springfield, along with the leaders of other Illinois colleges and universities, 9am on Thursday. You can view the testimony at the General Assembly’s website at http://www.ilga.gov/senate/audvid.asp The Appropriations II Committee, where President Dunn will be listed as 212.

Additionally, several assistants have voiced concerns to GAU about potential reductions in GA workload which would require a reduction in appointment. Upon raising this matter with Chancellor Colwell, who charged Provost Ford with investigating the situation, it was later clarified that contracts would be awarded at the usual amount of 10hrs/week for 25% and 20hrs/week for 50%. With regards to the award of contracts, Provost Ford stated the following.

“…I confirm that both the GAU and the administration have an interest in providing contracts in practice in either 25% or 50% amounts.  Unusual percentages are provided only under exceptional circumstances and typically only with special permission from the Graduate Dean and usually with information to the GAU.”

In my column in last month’s advocate, I indicated that the Chancellor urged Chairs and Deans to appoint assistantships at 50% where possible, and make a good faith effort to secure additional funding for those students who would be funded at 25%. While the Chancellor did make this suggestion, interpretation of how assistantships are awarded is largely up to the department in question in accordance with the requirements set in our Collective Bargaining agreement. In light of this, some departments are making the decision to fund GAs at lower percentages in order to provide more funded positions.

Finally, I would like to clarify information provided in last month’s advocate concerning the funds released to colleges for their GA budget for FY16. As stated, colleges have been granted funds for FY16 equal to 75% of FY15’s GA budget. However, we have now learned that this 75% amount includes funding provided to incoming international students to meet their visa commitments, and this figure pertains only to Academic Colleges in Academic Affairs. We have further learned that funding for summer 2016 is included in this 75% amount and is up to the discretion of the individual department.

If you have any questions, concerns, or comments, you can email us at gau.siuc@gmail.com or comment on either this post or our Facebook page.


In Solidarity,

GAU Executive Council

John Flowers, President
Natalie Nash, Vice-President for Membership
Kevin Taylor, Secretary/Treasurer
Joon Kang, Grievance Officer
John Barnard, Stewards Council Chair
Jim Podesva, Bargaining Unit Chair



On Love – Unrequited, Political and Otherwise … Again: Tackling the Taboo

By James Anderson

For three years in a row now I have contributed a Valentine’s Day, love-themed column to the Graduate Assistants United website.

In my 2014 piece on unrequited love, I referenced Noam Chomsky, Kendrick Lamar, Phil Ochs, Marina Sitrin, Spanish anarcho-syndicalists circa 1936, the ideological embodiment of capitalist cooptation (Steve Jobs) and political scientist James C. Scott, among others. In my 2015 piece I opened by quoting Eduardo Galeano before embarking on a wild and steamy tangent about the history of love and revolution in France, authoring what was in retrospect likely my semi-conscious and probably inappropriate attempt at a poorly-coded love letter.

Needless to say, the theme of unrequited love remains a recurring one in my life. Heretofore, few are lining up to “Dance Me to the End of Love,” to borrow the title of the Leonard Cohen track, and this love drought is despite – or perhaps because of – the multiple off-rhythm renditions of the song I insist each time on performing for my would-be beloved.

This Valentine’s Day thus offers the opportunity for further introspection, self-reflection, self-loathing and conscious use of self-deprecating humor. The latter, I should add, has proven woefully inadequate when it comes to cultivating intimate interpersonal relations but immensely helpful in keeping me sane on days like Valentine’s Day when I otherwise wind up alone diluting my bottle of cheap scotch with a mix of ice and heartache-filled tears.

Modern Valentine’s Day might have become popular, as Tom Chivers noted, in mid-18th century England with the “passing of love notes,” the “precursor to the St Valentine’s Day card as we know it,” followed by Esther Howland of Worcester, Mass., mass producing cards using cheaper lace in the United States in 1847, leading to the present-day commercialized holiday. Yes, the holiday now sees some couples enjoying fine wine and orgasmic Michael Recchiuti chocolates while others keep themselves warm with tear-scotch, but that is no justification for ignoring it.

Painful and problematic as the day is, it also offers us a chance to draw important parallels and broach taboo topics. That sounds sexy anyway. So let’s roll with it.

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From the President

Normally, I use this space to act as the bearer of bad news. This time, however, I have good news to share with the membership: last Tuesday, Chairs and Deans were authorized to begin offering contracts for fall of 2016, in spite of the on going budget turmoil in Springfield.

During a meeting Tuesday afternoon, Chancellor Colwell stated that the Administration had released GA funds to colleges to the order of 75% of the total allocation of fiscal year 2015’s GA budget. In doing so, he stated that he urged chairs and deans to appoint GAs at 50% contracts or, if a 50% was unavailable, make an attempt to find a second 25% contract to bring the contracted student up to 50%.

Further, Chancellor Colwell also stated that the Administration has authorized chairs and deans to appoint GAs for full nine month appointments, rather than on a semester by semester basis. His reasoning for these two pushes is grounded in the loss of 420 graduate students for this semester, and a prediction of even higher losses due to the budget crisis.

While the above is all very good news, there is still uncertainty: the Chancellor was unsure whether or not the proposed 75% accounts for the funds distributed to incoming international students to fulfill their visa requirements, or if the 75% also accounts for assistantships in the summer. GAU is working hard to get up to date information concerning these two items, as we will inform the member body as soon as possible.

That being said, none of this would be possible without the strength of our contract and the collective power of our Union. Our contract requires that Chancellor Colwell meet with us by request to discuss matters of concern to GAs, a requirement that enables GAU to better provide accurate information concerning the employment of GAs here at SIU.

Our contract is what enables us to proved the membership with the protections and benefits, including accurate information concerning our appointments, that we deserve. That being said, we can only maintain these protections and benefits through the strength of our member body. Thus, every victory that GAU wins, is a victory for all graduate students.

Speaking of all graduate students, I would like to take this time to restate GAU’s commitment to stand in solidarity with the struggles of the Coalition of Graduate Workers at the University of Missouri as they struggle for the very same protections that we all enjoy here at SIU.

In solidarity,

Johnathan Flowers