SEIU 1021 Members Testify to Workers’ Rights Board about Impact of Adjunct Faculty Working Conditions on Higher Education
SAN FRANCISCO–Wednesday, September 9, about 100 people gathered at the St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in the Mission District for a Workers’ Rights Board Hearing on the future of higher education in San Francisco. Faculty and students from the California State University, City College of San Francisco and three SEIU 1021 members from San Francisco Art Institute testified to the poor and declining pay and working conditions within their institutions and the higher education system as a whole.
“I was born in France, and emigrated to the United States hoping to move away from job insecurity, precarious jobs, temporary jobs…This summer I was supposed to teach a statistics class at City College. The week before classes started, I got an email saying, Sorry, your class got cut. Good luck this summer. That was my main income plan for the summer. This fall, I didn’t get my regular load, and I have no idea what I’m going to be teaching this spring. I cannot plan ahead,” said Mousa Rebouh, who teaches math at City College as well as other schools. “I have three kids…My daughter used to attend gymnastics. She liked it a lot. My situation made it so that I can’t plan ahead and can’t pay for it anymore. She looked forward to it the entire week. I had to take her out of it, and she doesn’t understand why she’s not going to gymnastics anymore.”Jessica Beard, an adjunct professor (and SEIU 1021 member) at San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) who currently serves on their bargaining team, spoke about the process of fighting back against these conditions. “Bringing everyone together to vote for this union when our interests and priorities were diverse and sometimes divergent was difficult…For our membership, one notion that echoes through all of our efforts, especially our more visible ones, is that we really have nothing to lose. Without a contract, the administration owes us nothing, and as we return to the bargaining table again and again and again, in search of a seemingly impossible job security agreement, we sometimes use that to our advantage. We have to fight hard…Especially invigorating for most of us on the bargaining team is how being members of SEIU 1021 has brought us together with other adjuncts, fast food workers with the Fight for 15, nurses and staff from our own institutions. This changes the narrative as isolated workers and strengthens our presence on campus and at the bargaining table.”
After a rousing call to action from students who have been helping faculty’s efforts to win a fair contract, the Workers’ Rights Board panel, including SF District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar, Vice-President of the SF Unified School District Board of Education Matt Haney, Rev. Richard L. Smith of St. John’s, renowned playwright and educator Cherrie Moraga, prominent artist and educator Celia Herrera Rodriguez, and Executive Director of the Jamestown Community Center Myrna Melgar, responded to what they had heard.
“I taught at SF State for 16 years, and I helped found New College of California, so I identify with what the SFAI folks are dealing with, and the victimization and demonization that courageous faculty organizing are facing. We as government officials have to do everything we can to hold accountable institutions that are really squeezing the lowest-paid workers and taking away this ideal of education that can make you a better servant to your community,” said Sup. Eric Mar.
“What kind of sickness has come across our city, our society, when we would dismantle the very thing that is the source of our prosperity? When we would attack the very people who are most essential–our educators? There’s something deeply wrong at the core when we’re having a conversation of people who are undermined and attacked, who should be celebrated and supported. In this city especially, the amount of wealth in this city, that we would be having this conversation here in this very place where blocks from here they’re renting 1-bedroom apartments for $7,000, selling million-dollar condos, that we wouldn’t support our young people to have a future in this city? There can be nothing more shameful than that,” said Matt Haney, elected SF School Board member.
The SFAI Poster Syndicate, led by SFAI adjunct professor Art Hazelwood, produced a series of prints for participants and guests.