This post is both news and a real-life example of the chapter in our handbook, “Power Theater.” That chapter was also posted in this blog on October 31, 2015.
Below is a photo from inside a street demonstration in support of City College of San Francisco. I took it back in 2012. The protestors (and there were about 5,000, which does not show in this picture) had just delivered a petition to the Department of Education office in downtown San Francisco, asking them to investigate an agency called the ACCJC, the Accreditation Commission of Community and Junior Colleges. This agency’s threat to shut CCSF down unless it agreed to downsizing, layoffs and cutbacks opened a war between the administration and a coalition of faculty, students and the general public which is still going on. On the question of clipping the wings of the ACCJC, the coalition is winning, bit by bit. But the union is now locked in dead-end negotiations with the administration over salary and working conditions. Because of salary cuts, faculty at CCSF are now making less than they made in 2007.
Joe is a long-time member of Local 2121. Joe used to teach labor studies at CCSF before we went to Viet Nam (before we went to Illinois, in fact) and was very involved in organizing contingent faculty. He is now back teaching there and belongs to the union. He is on the Executive Board as a representative of the Retirees.
Last week Local 2121 took a vote that confirms that the members are willing to strike if no progress is made in negotiations with the administration. For Joe, participating in a strike vote had special resonance because many years ago, on his first day of working at San Francisco Unified School District, the union there also had a strike vote.
The Local 2121 strike vote was followed by an action, taken at the California Federation of Teachers annual convention, which just happened to be convened in San Francisco. Teachers from City College went and demonstrated by sitting in at the office of the college administration’s chief negotiator, Jeff Sloan.
Both the publicity around the strike vote and the demonstration with the arrests are examples of what we are talking about in Power Theater.
Here is the announcement of the outcome of the strike vote, by the President of the Union, Tim Killikelley. This was read at a press conference, to get maximum publicity for the strike vote. The idea, of course, is to make the threat as credible and public as possible, in the hopes that the administration will take it seriously and begin to negotiate. In fact the threat is serious. Note that this is not publicized as a limited-time strike, like a 4 day strike or a 3-day strike. A limited-time strike tells the employer and the public how long they have to plan to deal with the disruption. It pulls some of the punch of the strike. An open-ended strike tells people that the workers will stay out as long as necessary to get their goals met.
In a historic vote concluded on Tuesday, March 8th, 2016, City College faculty overwhelmingly expressed their dissatisfaction with the District’s failure to protect the City College that San Francisco deserves by refusing to prioritize students and faculty.
In the highest turnout our union has ever seen, over 800 faculty cast ballots with 92% approval to authorize the union’s executive board to call a strike, should contract negotiations fail. In the lead up to this historic vote we have also conducted a membership drive and signed up dozens of new members. AFT 2121 leadership, student supporters, and negotiating team members publicly announced the results of the vote today at a press conference in front of the Chinatown Campus.
The struggle between our union and the CCSF administration has gone beyond a simple labor issue. The very future of City College is at stake as the continuation of the status quo would mean a significant reduction in the size of the college and the diversity of programs offered. CCSF administration’s plan to reduce the college by 26% is of grave concern to the faculty, students and the community. By voting to strike if necessary faculty are clearly demonstrating that we will do what we must to stand up for CCSF and the quality of education at our college.
Teachers, counselors, and librarians at City College became public servants because we want to help students. Going on strike is not a step we take lightly, as it will mean hardship for our families and missed days of instruction for our students. But withholding our labor is ultimately our strongest tool to defend the quality of education at City College for our students and for San Francisco. The District must come to understand that the faculty will not stand for business as usual. This overwhelming vote should be their wake-up call.
Tim Killikelley, President, AFT 2121
There is a chapter in my book, “What Did You Learn at Work Today?” that takes you up till about spring of 2014 in the story of the accreditation battle. But here is something Joe and I wrote for the BayView, a local San Francisco newspaper, last July (2015), as part of their effort to recover enrollment.
The fight to save City College: Push back against push-out July 28, 2015 by Helena Worthen and Joe Berry
The fight to save City College is taking place on two levels: we’re winning on one, but losing on another.
In the May 6, 2015, Walkout to Save City College, 200 students walked out of classes for a march, rally and flash occupation of the administration building. Between the courts, the legislature and political pressure in the streets, City College has made significant advances in the struggle to retain accreditation, despite the attempts by the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) to shut the college down.
Many elected and appointed city and state leaders have taken action to preserve City College as an accredited, accessible, community-friendly institution that serves all of San Francisco. The College is still open, still accredited, and still continues to provide excellent education to this broad population. But on another level, the fight to save City College has taken a terrible toll. Enrollment has dropped from 100,000 to 80,000. In terms of full-time equivalent students (FTES) the college has lost 15 percent of its enrollment since 2010, because so many part-time students have gone missing. Even more tragic is that the price is being paid mostly by low-income and minority students, the very people who use and need the college most.
According to a report commissioned by supervisor Eric Mar, comparing City College enrollment with enrollment in nearby community colleges – Peralta and San Mateo, for example – these students are not enrolling elsewhere to continue their education. Instead, they have just dropped out of college. Bring back missing students Bringing these students, and others, back into the classroom is a top priority for the CCSF Diversity Coalition, an organization formed by current students, faculty and department chairs to protect the ethnic studies classes and other social justice classes. These classes form an on-campus support network for students from Asian, Pacific Island, Pilipino, African-American, Latin-American and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender) communities. The Diversity Coalition also includes the Disabled Students program, the Labor and Community Studies program, the Human Sexuality program and Interdisciplinary Studies, which is the home of the new Middle Eastern Studies Program. Lalo Gonzalez, a student in Latino Studies at City College and an organizer for the Save City College Coalition, says, “If City College goes down, that leaves poor an minority communities with no access to higher education and more gentrification, more police violence, more poverty”
San Franciscans have long bragged about City College as the largest community college in California and one of the oldest and largest in the U.S. We cannot let the forces of privatization and gentrification persuade potential students to drop their dreams of a college education. City College has always had faculty with an affinity for Black students and is respected as a nurturing school where Blacks can succeed. In the long term, this is the worst possible thing that could happen. If the re-engineering of City College continues to happen by top-down changes forced from above, the college may devolve into a narrow transfer and workforce development-oriented institution, simply through cuts. Low enrollments mean classes get cancelled, faculty get laid off, centers for student support close down, and programs that took many years to design and get approved just vanish.
…and it goes on, but you get the idea.