An Uncivil Union

I’m not a joiner.   Don’t try to enlist me in your cause.     

I will support your efforts, if I so choose, but I will do so on my own terms.   

With that said, you can imagine how upset I was to find out that a portion of my paltry adjunct instructor salary for teaching at a public university was being used to pay union dues.   

It was four glorious years ago.  No one bothered to tell me, I just happened to look a my first pay stub and saw acroymn and accompanying deduction that I did not recognize.   I know about that greedy heifer FICA who is always borrowing money and promising to pay me back when I reach 70. 

When I asked the human resources/payroll representative about it, she informed me that the deduction for for ABC (ficitious acroynym) was  for ABC.   Excuse me?  Thanks for non-information information.

After a little research,  I found out that although, ABC was the union and although “they”  were taking much-needed money from my pay, technically, I was not a union member.  Membership required filling out a yellow index-sized card on which you declare your undying loyalty.

And union membership comes with only real benefit:  the right to vote during contract negotiations which take place  every four years.   Since New York’s Taylor Law prevents the membership from participating in a job action such as a strike, what’s the point?

Let me say for the record, in general, I don’t like unions.  It’s an inheritated disdain.  My late father, a supervisor for the U.S. Postal Service, had little use for unions.  He believed that they unfairly protected medicore workers and did little to reward exemplary employees.

I can neither confirm nor deny his observations but what I do know is that having worked in non-union positions for most of my life,  I am accustomed to negotiating my salary based on my performance and overall benefit to the growth of the company/division.   In contrast union menbers are team players who are in complete lockstep in all work-related matters including compensation.

I hate having to take one for the team. 

Once again, it was a my father who would have profound influence over my thoughts and this time, actions, regarding the world of work.

Employed at my first job post-college and living at home at the time,  I told my father that I had been promoted to manager and had been given$1,000 raise.   Although, I would only net approximately $10 more per paycheck, I thought he would be pleased.   His response shocked me.  “When are you going to hand in your resignation?” he asked.  His words taught me the value of my own value.  The next day,  I gave my employer my two weeks notice.   And with newfound confidence, I looked for my next job.   

That next job would be working in marketing for a construction subcontractor.   Right away,  I started plotting and planning how I could make my mark.   After looking at the company’s  brochure which was produced by an outside vendor,  I made my boss an offer I thought he couldn’t refuse.  I told him that I would create a better quality brochure, in house, for less money than he paid the vendor.  And, if the piece was to his liking, he would pass along part of the savings to me in the form of an increased salary.

I kept my end of the bargain and he kept his.

Although I am not a highly skilled negotiator,  I  can give many more examples where I was able to secure better compensation. 

Now, here I am working at a job I truly love and unable to ask for even the smallest of pay raises.  In fact,  I am at the lowest rung of the salary ladder despite having entered the system with several years teaching and work experience because I am an MFA not PhD — the desired acronym.

For the most part,  I have kept my displeasure to myself.  Recently, I received an email from a union representive asking the membership to sign a petition for an hour’s extra pay.  According the rep, we aren’t paid for our work during finals week.   

I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to vent my frustrations and sent him an email in reply. 

He responded rather quickly and in detail.   Basically, he gave me a lot excuses why things are the way the are and why they won’t change any time soon.   He said that I should be grateful to work at place that has a union. 

When I asked about the possibility of merit pay,  he proceeded to tell me that “merit pay” isn’t all what is cracked up to be and that it bascially means, “managerial discretion”  and is used to reward  “more compliant faculty”  and  punish faculty whose opinions differ from those of management’s.

I hate it when people try to convince me that fat meat ain’t greasy. 

He placed the blame for our present conditions on the public university system and stated that I should join others in my rage against big brother. 

In my next missive, I made it perfectly clear that I had no problem with the university.  I know they are only protecting their interests and the union is SUPPOSED to protect ours.   Don’t hate the players; hate the game. 

Other than the paltry salary I am paid,  I have no real complaints.  My department fosters a collegial atmosphere where both full-time and part-time faculty are respected.  Thanks to extensive professional development opportunities,  I can improve my teaching methods and learn how to use instructional technology.  I wouldn’t be blogging today, if it had not been for my experiences there.  

I am challenged.   It’s a place where I can learn as well as teach. 

Yes, there is a need for unions in certain cases especially those in which employees are exposed to hazardous working conditions.   I wonder if the  men of  the Sago mining disaster would be alive today, if they had a strong union to take  the company to task regarding safety violations.  

The bottom line:  No fan of my union and its ineffectiveness, I will not sign the petition.  

The only right I am willing to fight for is my right to freely negotiate my own compensation.  

One thought on “An Uncivil Union

  1. As one of the students who has benefited from your position at this public university I really hope that they will look beyond the PhD thing and give you full-time position. I have already received my grade, so I am not brownosing and I can openly say that I learned alot in your class, more than in some classes with the PhDs. As for Unions I agree with you, I only know one person who is in a union job and their attitude is defeatist. But then again I am looking from the outside and they do have great health benefits :>)

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