Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Clarifications on my letter of February 8, 2014 [UPDATED]

In my post below [click here to read it], I explain some of my original reservations about the union, its demands and the then impending two-day strike.  The date on that letter is February 8, 2014, but I wrote the bulk of the first draft by the end of January 2014.  In this post, I am going over where I've changed my mind on some points.

But for starters, I want to repeat what I said in that post.  I had given the letter to a pro-union acquaintance, and that person distributed the letter, or parts of it, to some of his or her fellow supporters in the union.  I state this because that acquaintance was doing so as a way to foster a conversation among the members of the union, even though he or she probably disagreed with most of what I said.  All this is to point out that that person had no role in writing that letter and has no role in authoring this blog.  If you have seen the letter or parts of it before the letter was posted on Tuesday, April 1, 2014, then whoever showed it to you likely disagrees with the statements made in this blog and should not bear any criticism for anything I say here.

Now, here are the points I have changed my mind about.

First, in the letter, I had said I plan on staying away, but not doing the picket lines.  But as my earlier posts attest, I actually did man the picket lines.  Similarly, in that letter, I said I would not honor a longer, indefinite strike.  I now plan--tentatively--to honor such  a strike if it happens, although I am more reluctant to join the pickets.

Second, I criticized what I saw as some union members' cavalier attitude toward the docking of pay.  In the letter, I suggested that those persons' attitude did not really account for the realities of those of us who have to report our absences.  The union and the university partially resolved that issue with a voluntary reporting scheme.  Because I joined the pickets and the university did not have the benefit of two days of my labor, I reported that I did not work those days.  That's the right thing to do.

Third, I criticized the union's protest against being paid less than managers make at McDonald's.  I stand by my criticism.  But I think I was a bit too dismissive of the challenges facing some of the instructor faculty, especially the lesser paid ones.  One thing manning the picket lines and talking to or listening to some of the instructors reminded me of was how hard it is to grade papers and teach writing.  The ability, as I said in the letter, to grade papers with music in the background while reading coffee might make the job somewhat easier.  But it is a hard job.  Still, I stand by my criticism.  One shouldn't protest against being paid merely the same wages as a food service worker.

Fourth, I should be a little more upfront about my interests here.  I won't go into too much detail because I don't want to ruin my anonymity, but my position with the university is such that I really do believe I am more likely to be priced out if the union wins a contract.  In other words, if the wage minimum is increased and multi-year contracts are provided for, it will probably not be worth the university's while to keep me on.  An instructor in writing, for example, is doing something the university values more highly--or at least sees as more necessary even if it doesn't pay salaries accordingly--than it values my position.

I believe that's fair.  Things are as they are and even though I work hard and believe I do a good job at what I do, writing instruction is more important.  But I write this to say that I believe I have a definite interest in the union failing to secure a contract.  My calculation of my interest in the matter might be wrong.  But I am working from that assumption, and those who probably compose the majority of the union's bargaining unit ought to be aware that my objections are not based purely on principle.

Fifth and finally, I would like to clarify something about my objection to the union.  I believe the union would be bad for UIC and I believe most of what the union wishes to obtain will be bad for the faculty.  But I still think UIC would be a great place to work for.  If the union wins a contract (and if I can keep my job), then I will look at the union and the contract not as the bane of my working existence, but just as one element of a job that I find less pleasant.  And frankly, I've never had a job that came without drawbacks.  And for all I know, I could be wrong on my prediction about whether the union and what it wants are bad.  Maybe it would turn out to be a positive good despite my fears.

UPDATE, April 2, 2014:  When I originally wrote this post, I had failed at one point to use the "his or her" phrasing when speaking of my pro-union acquaintance.  I have since revised that one instance where I failed to do so.

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