Inside/Outside Strategy: the CFT PTFC and Higher Ed Issues Committee Resolution on the Two-Tier System

Yesterday John Govsky, long-time activist at Cabrillo College, wrote to Joe to say:

Hi Joe,

I just want to show you a resolution that I wrote. Today it has been approved by the CFT Part-Time Faculty Committee, and also by the CFT Higher Ed Issues Committee, so it will now go to the CFT State Council in March as a joint resolution. I thought you might find this resolution interesting …

Develop a Strategic Plan to End the Two-Tier System in Community College

Whereas, it is widely agreed that the California Community College system’s over-reliance on contingent faculty is one of the greatest problems in higher education today; and

Whereas, over 40 years of resolutions, advocacy, legislative lobbying, and other efforts have failed to make significant changes to this two-tier system; and

Whereas, there are existing models of a working one-tier system in higher education, such as those used in British Columbia; and

Whereas the California Federation of Teachers Policy and Positions Handbook states that CFT supports “the ending of the two-tiered wage system” [4.2.7];

Therefore, be it resolved, that CFT shall create, no later than January 1, 2023, a strategic planning task force, with members appointed by the president, to develop a strategic plan for transitioning to a one-tier system; and

Be it finally resolved, that this task force shall deliver its report for approval by the Executive Council and/or State Council no later than January 1, 2024.


So, you might say, OK, someone sat down late at night and had an idea and wrote it down. So far, so good, but only too often that’s the end of it. A good idea disappears as soon as you’ve exhaled it onto paper. But it’s kind of like that Marge Piercy poem, The Low Road:

So you either print out a few copies or you email it to a few friends, and they read it and think about it. These are people whom you choose because you know they won’t say: “It will never happen.” They change some of the formatting, or they put the ideas in a different order, or they want a different verb. You want them to make some changes because then they will own the ideas. Next, you send it to your caucus or committee. In this case, John Govsky sent it to the CFT Part-Time Faculty Committee. “Part-time” is the term for contingent faculty in the California community colleges, because under the law they can’t work over 67% of a load. This committee is their Inside-Outside committee, the forum where faculty who share the condition of contingency get together and hash out their concerns.

The Part-Time Faculty Committee evidently approved it. That must have required some discussion of the British Columbia model with references to many things that have been written about it by people like Jack Longmate and Keith Hoeller. They also must have talked about the long history of how the 60% cap came to be and how it got pushed up to 67%, and then what happened last fall when Governor Newsom vetoed AB375 which would have moved the cap up to about 80% and allowed part-timers, who often commute between two or three or more college districts, to consolidate schedules (more on that later). In other words, this first step of getting a resolution approved probably took some time. It may even have stirred up some fears among the committee members, who were probably angry (at Newsom’s veto on top of everything else) and cautious about expressing anger, and because it’s essentially confrontational, since it means saying directly to the next level of the union leadership, “You need to get going on doing your job!” That job having been signaled by the official state level of the CFT supporting ending the two-tier system.

So the committee, with a smile and a sigh, approved the resolution and moved it on up. I actually don’t know what happened in the committee, I’m just guessing, having been in such committees.

And it was approved at the level of the CFT Higher Ed Issues committee and will go on to the State Council in March.

This is a great example of the Inside/Outside strategy. There is a lot more to say about what will happen and I’ll try to track it. But for right now, some questions that might come up for a reader who is considering doing something like this, would be: Why those distant deadlines??? Why give the union whole year to develop a strategic plan for something that everyone (or at least a lot of people) are angry about? And then it turns out that this plan is only a report from the appointed task force and the union has another year to approve it, that is by January 1, 2024? And even then it’s only a plan?

And in the meantime, disaster capitalism is taking advantage of the pandemic to chop away at all levels of education….

Stay tuned.

HELU: Higher Education Labor United

This is just a paste-in of an announcement of the Higher Ed Labor United summit coming up at the end of this month. Prep for this summit is going on very fast with a group of young activists from all over the country. It’s pretty exciting. Please click through on this and sign up, and pass the link along to others. –Helena

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HELU One Line Logo

Winter Summit, February 23-27, 2022

Higher Education Labor United (HELU), a coalition of higher ed unions and allied organizations, will hold a Winter Summit February 23–27 to build support for a collaborative Vision Platform and to help coordinate efforts to advance a national agenda for transforming U.S. colleges and universities. Attendees will include faculty, staff, and student workers who are members of AAUP, AFSCME, AFT, CWA, NEA, SEIU, UAW, the Teamsters, and UE as well as many independent locals.

The summit will focus on three core tasks: coordinating the surge of higher education worker organizing across the country, developing federal policy proposals to reverse the trends that have damaged higher education over the last several decades, and engaging in the political process by educating politicians and candidates on these issues and working to support those who will advance a program of democratizing higher education.


As we move from short-term advocacy around federal legislation to long-term planning for a transformative, anti-racist, and social justice forward higher education labor movement, we plan to bring together higher education labor organizers from around the United States for HELU’s second summit.

Join us as we launch our new program areas (Coordinated National Organizing, National Political Engagement, and Policy Development and Advocacy) and organize to build our movement. 

We welcome all members of the higher education labor community to join us.

Register for the Winter Summit


The Winter Summit will take place February 23, 24, 26 & 27, 2022. Some sessions will be open to all attendees, while others will be open to voting delegates only.

Agenda coming soon.

Financial Support

In order to support the graduate, adjunct, staff, and marginalized organizers doing significant work to make the summit happen, we are asking registering unions to contribute to the Winter Summit based on their size and capacity, and attendees not affiliated with a contributing union or organization to support the summit in any amount they can.

Contributions are being overseen by Jobs With Justice.

Individual Contribution

Union Contribution

Introducing HELU’s Program Areas

After many weeks of careful analysis and deliberation, the HELU steering committee has proposed that HELU take more permanent form by centering our work on three main areas:

  • Coordinated National Organizing: We need to align and support the unionization campaigns, bargaining fights, work actions, and strikes for economic and social justice that are sweeping our sector. It’s up to us as workers to connect our individual struggles into a collective movement.
  • National Political Engagement: In our efforts to push the federal government to adopt pro-worker policies for higher education, we learned that we need to build up a bench of supporters in D.C. and the state capitols who understand us, speak our language, and are ultimately accountable to higher education workers.
  • Policy Development and Advocacy: Our movement has what it takes to reimagine higher education policy. Now we need to develop the goals, legislative language, and regulatory reforms that our movement can advance nationally and in our own communities. We must address all campus inequities through our policies and demands: pay disparities, racial and gender hierarchies, discrimination and harassment, as well as many others.

© 2022 Higher Education Labor United

Harvard and Berkeley: Two contingent faculty workforces, two strike threats

In fall 2021 two unions representing contingent (adjunct, non-tenure line, grad worker) faculty faced down two of the most prestigious universities in the world by mounting a credible strike threat.  Both the Graduate Student Employees at Harvard, represented by the United Automobile Workers (HGSU-UAW), and the Lecturers in the 9-campus University of California system, represented by the American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT), won contract settlements. Both had mounted threats believed by the members, the administrations, and the public.  

These settlements give us a look into some of the most important aspects of how higher education is delivered and what higher ed workers are doing about it. These aspects are not what is being focused on in the mainstream press. 

Similarities and differences

Workers in both unions are similar in that they design and teach courses, evaluate students, carry out research, develop their disciplinary knowledge and perform other necessary “faculty work”.  Workers in both unions are “contingent” meaning that their jobs are contingent (dependent on) funding, enrollment and many other factors.  Unlike tenure-line faculty, they do not have “just cause dismissal and discipline” rights, which are the essentials of tenure, and therefore do not have academic freedom.  Nor do they have the pay and benefits of tenure-line faculty; in fact, contingency as a mass employment practice in higher education was introduced in the 1970s, largely as a way to cut labor costs. Today, nearly 75% of higher ed is delivered by contingents.

But let’s contrast these two situations. One group of contingents works at Harvard, a private institution that gets its wealth from endowments and investments and is ruled by a private Corporation that appoints the President. The other works at the University of California, that gets a major portion of its wealth from tax revenue and is run by a Board of Regents appointed by the governor. This difference – the difference between private and public sector – plays out in how a unionized faculty workforce designs a strategy, particularly the strategy of building a credible strike threat. What’s your story, and whom do you have to convince to believe it?

The HGSU-UAW workforce and its settlement

At Harvard, the grad students are usually in their twenties and thirties and are employed while enrolled in graduate programs. They do not keep these jobs after they get their degrees. However, while in grad school, they are likely to have heavy debt burdens and may be starting a family.  In other words, this is a workforce that turns over frequently, wants decent pay, needs family health insurance but is not looking for job security and does not care about retirement. 

Thus the tentative four-year deal between Harvard and the UAW included a 5% pay raise this year, new funding for benefits (including some dental) and legal assistance, and full pay for researchers who leave a work site because of sexual harassment or discrimination, typical forms of abuse that grad students are exposed to. However, it did not include guaranteed independent arbitration for such cases of sexual harassment or discrimination. In other words, Harvard, perhaps the richest higher education institution on the planet, can afford to pass out money, as long as it does not skew the strategy of its overall faculty compensation plan, or change the power relationships between grad students and their advisors. 

Nor will Harvard support a strong union: it rejected the union demand for a “fair share” arrangement, in which all employees represented by a union make payments to the union that cover the costs of representation.  This share, also called “agency fee” or a union security agreement, usually amounts to something close to the membership fee. In the absence of a fair share arrangement, unions have to organize each new hire individually, often one-on-one. A regular stream of fair share revenue coming into a union allows for staffing, reduces the reliance on volunteers, enables some institutional memory and covers basic expenses. These are important aspects of representing a workforce that turns over as often as grad students.  No way was Harvard going to go for that.  

The UC-AFT workforce and its settlement

In contrast, the UC Lecturers in the University of California system have already earned their degrees and have made a long-term commitment to working in higher education. They want to know where they are going to live for the foreseeable future, where their kids are going to go to school, whether to rent or buy a home. Although they also typically have student loan debt to deal with, they are interested in continuity and stability. 

The settlement between the AFT-represented Lecturers and the UC system includes some job security and promotion items that may turn out to be the best in the country for contingent faculty: more job stability with multi-year appointments in the first six years, reviews before reappointment and the right to be reappointed “if deemed effective”,specific and transparent performance review criteria and a pathway to apply to become a senior continuing lecturer.

Currently, maybe only two other higher ed union have bargained a path for someone hired as a contingent to move into a tenure-line or equivalent position. One is City College of San Francisco, where AFT Local 2121 won upgrading language, and the other one is the California State University system- California Faculty Association contract, where inside candidates, who are state employees, have to be given “careful consideration” for hiring, as defined over the years by many arbitrations and grievance settlements. 

In addition to these job security items, UC-AFT won some money items.  Paid medical leave and health benefits over the summer acknowledge that these faculty members are actual people all year round, not “units of flexibility,” as one contingent was told. Retirement and professional development funding also signal a long-term commitment.  

The credible strike threat is what brought home the win

In both cases, the strike threat was credible in the sense that it was believed by the public, the university administration, and the members themselves.  However, the audience for the threat was different in each case. Harvard doesn’t like to be embarrassed; it wants to be known for its world-famous professors, not for the grad students scrambling to pay the rent while teaching Harvard students. It also likes to be the model for how things ought to be done. The UC system is viewed by Californians as the top of the mountain for working class students; they are likely to empathize with Lecturers who share their worklife stories, and support a strike, leading to widening disruptions. But other parts of the credible strike threats included careful development, over a period of months and even years, of coalition support by allies on campus and off, who were prepared to take action in support of their contingent colleagues and fellow workers. 

We do not mean to criticize either settlement.  Both are steps forward that will make significant differences in the lives of real people. The purpose of this article is to suggest to readers who may not follow higher ed workforce news that it’s important to look at who is the workforce, who is the management, and who is the public, to get beyond the headlines about strikes.  Chances are, given the situation at Columbia University (for example) we are not done with this.  

Joe Berry and Helena Worthen

Berry and Worthen are long-time contingent faculty activists and organizers, labor educators, and the co-authors of Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the Contingent Faculty Movement in Higher Education, Pluto Books, 2021. We wrote this post back in December but I didn’t get this blog going until now.

The Handoff

In case this is the first time someone lands on this blog, which I have been slow in getting up: Last year about this time, Joe Berry and I sent in the ms for our book, Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the Contingent Faculty Movement in Higher Education. It came out from Pluto last August (2021). Turns out, we had good timing. But we are old (I am 78 and Joe is 73) and it was time to say: “OK, here you go, read this and email Joe if you have any questions.” That’s why we wrote that book.

Sort of “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning,” if anyone remembers that old line.

However, “Call me in the morning” is exactly what is happening. It takes a variety of forms which I hadn’t foreseen. We are being used for long background interviews (like the one in the LA Times, which quoted us). We are featured on zooms (like with the Marxist Education Project earlier this month). We are being asked to talk at conferences (like the Washington State AFT contingent faculty conference in February). And then there’s podcasts, like one coming out of Toronto, which hasn’t been posted yet.

However, there’s a catch: These are actually more work for us, not less.

It’s not like we could wrap up this book and then go home, make dinner and watch Netflix. Nor is it as simple as just doing a publicity thing for our book. In fact, when Joe writes to some publication and asks them to review our book, they come back with asking us to write something new, or give them an excerpt from our book that we can publish. We have already done this several times. You’d think it would be easy, but it takes time.

Another consequence of trying to do a hand-off is that we have to show up at places where the people to whom we are trying to hand off the movement (imagine saying that!) congregate. The two most important that I’m aware of are the weekly Labor Notes higher ed group and HELU, Higher Ed Labor United. HELU is preparing a second summit for February 23-27. Both of these involve young people who are seriously pursuing the goals of the movement, all the while dealing with their own situations. These are the people that we mean when we say, “We are the moving party.”

I will write more about HELU later. It’s at if you want to see their website now, which is still under construction.

This is on top of Joe continuing to do the COCAL Updates. And he’s still on the E-Board of the AFT Local 2121 at City College.

In the meantime: two items posted today on Inside Higher Ed, the first dismaying but not surprising, the second a nightmare. But both make me want to repeat: We are the moving party.

Jan 28, Colleen Flaherty in Inside Higher Ed:  
Nationally, total enrollment in teacher preparation programs declined by more than one-third between 2010 and 2017, even as overall undergraduate enrollment increased over the same period, according to a 2019 analysis by American Progress. Oklahoma fared worst in the state-by-state portion of the analysis, with an enrollment crash of 80 percent.

She mentions two other universities (UC Davis and U of South Florida that were going to cut their teacher ed programs but backed off.)

Obviously, if people don’t want to be teachers any more, society will have to figure out how to do without them. This includes higher ed. Today (Jan 28) Inside Higher Ed also posted an Opinion Piece by Arthur Levine and Scott van Pelt, oddly dated October 4, 2021, that lays out a vision of the future of higher education that is a tech dream of a fully disrupted industry: Totally focused on consumer demand and the technology available to create and market the products that will feed that desire (I’m using that word on purpose).  The vision is fully populated by markets, products, and the tech that will make and deliver those products.  In between, where we might expect to see something about teachers and teaching as a job, there is zero.  It’s as if AI is going to create and deliver.  Which maybe it could. So it’s a question of what kind of world do we want to live in. 

Compare that with the vision statement of HELU.

Finally, “Other people’s children”

Heather Cox Richardson quoted Ron Johnson (R-WI) on the Child Tax Credit, saying,  “I’ve never really felt it was society’s responsibility to take care of other people’s children.”

That’s enough for today (as Heather Cox Richardson says). I’ll try to include photos eventually, like her.

Bad Headlines

Today (January 27) a NYTimes article by Taylor Johnston was headlined: “The Labor Movement is Popular, Prominent, and Also Shrinking.” This was followed by the standard pablum of graphs of union membership that you can get from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Union membership is not the labor movement, any more than high heeled pumps are “shoes”. (Does anyone use the word “pumps” any more?)

But yesterday Portside posted a story from Magnolia State Live about school bus drivers in Mississippi. There was a “labor shortage” of drivers (people had quit? Retired early? Didn’t want to catch COVID from unvaccinated kids?) so the school district hired replacement drivers but was going to pay them $25 per hour, as compared to the $12-15 per hour that the still-working drivers were getting. WHAT???? So the still-working drivers struck. It was a one hour strike. The School Board convened and the drivers got $20 per hour, the same day.

That’s the labor movement. It would be the labor movement even if the drivers weren’t organized in the sense of having a recognized union.

That one hour strike, despite being successful, is not going to show up on the BLS statistics of strikes.

IMHO, replacing “unions” with “movement” in an article that trumpets how weak workers are these days, is intentional dis-information.