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To strike or not? 

Remember those corny “look for the union label” ads? That seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?

Sadly, American labor unions have fallen on hard times. Wah! In the 1970s, about 30 percent of both public and private workers were union members. Today the overall rate is 11 percent, with just 6.7 percent for private sector workers. What the hell happened?

Big bad management made a concerted effort to vilify unions. They’re greedy! Strikes disrupt your life! Teachers unions protect lazy teachers! Yeah, yeah. Look, it’s true that teachers union members are public employees, so when they demand higher pay or benefits or reduced workloads, it relates directly to taxpayers, who ultimately pay their salaries. That’s a legit argument, but don’t forget history.

Who misses sweatshops and child labor? Without labor unions, the idea of weekends—which I love! Par-tay!—and the 40-hour workweek wouldn’t exist. Work breaks, paid vacation, and paid sick leave? I dig that stuff! Minimum wage, the eight-hour workday, paid overtime, workers’ comp, holiday pay, pensions, insurance—the list goes on and on, all due to union demands, resulting in these same benefits and laws extending to all labor, even nonunion. Hug a union member, people!

As unions and their powers erode, so too can these hard fought benefits, so watch your asses! Collective bargaining is indispensible to retain these bennies, which is why management actively works to divide union membership. 

So here we are today, poised for the largest faculty strike in U.S. history when just one week from now workers from all 23 California State University campuses—including Cal Poly—may cancel classes and take to the picket lines. I say “may” because, you know, stuff happens.

On one side is the CSU Management and Chancellor Timothy White claiming the CSU system can only afford to give faculty and staff a stingy 2 percent raise even though their wages have been stagnant for a decade. On the other side is the California Faculty Association (CFA) claiming faculty has suffered while the number of administrators and their salaries soared like freakin’ eagles, and not the good ol’ ’merican kind. The CFA is demanding a 5 percent across-the-board raise plus another 2.65 percent for those eligible for an SSI (Service Salary Increase).

Which side is right has already been decided. An independent fact finder said the faculty demands are reasonable and that CSU management should delay planned projects and reallocate funds in order to meet those demands.

Surprise! The chancellor’s office disagreed, and Associate Vice Chancellor Brad Wells complained that funds for this year had already been allocated, and “any attempt to pull back from these other high-priority commitments would cause significant harm to students, faculty, staff, and California.”

Hasn’t California already suffered enough? 

Mr. White may want to take advantage of Cal Poly’s critical thinking classes to help him locate the glaring hole in his argument that claims giving faculty and staff the raises independent fact finders say they deserve will somehow significantly “harm” them. How? By putting a few extra bucks in their frumpy brown corduroys?

The real tragedy—and here’s the “may” part—is the ongoing rift between faculty committed to strike and those who aren’t. Many argue the strike is merely symbolic since it has firm start and finish dates. A traditional strike withholds labor, which shuts down production and impacts revenue, thus sticking it to The Man-agement until labor demands are met. Some faculty members compare canceling classes for five days as akin to the furloughs faculty were required to take several years ago due to budget cuts. It’s not like the CSU is going to reimburse students their tuition for the week, though they will certainly cut faculty pay. The strike will, ironically, save the CSU money. Damn The Man!

Many faculty members, in particular the grossly underpaid lecturers, simply can’t afford to strike and lose a week’s pay. If the strike occurs but many faculty members cross the picket line and teach classes, the message it sends The Man is that the union is weak. When the strike ends a week later and management hasn’t capitulated, then what? Another strike and more pay loss? How many faculty members will cross the picket line then? It’s a horrible situation, pitting colleague against colleague, and it’s just what The Man is counting on.

Originally planned to begin on April 13 through 15, resuming on April 18 through 19, the strike is momentarily “on hold” as both parties return to the bargaining table for last-minute negotiations during a two-day “blackout” period. Hey, sounds like my normal weekend!

I was looking forward to seeing the looks on students’ parents’ faces when they arrived at Cal Poly’s Open House weekend and are greeted by red-clad faculty members waving picket signs lamenting their terrible pay.

Yet if faculty members stand together and strike, though classes will be canceled and instruction stopped, students may learn an even more valuable lesson: the importance of worker solidarity and collectively standing up for justice. This is the people’s university, and administrators must put faculty and students first, not last. 

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