While we are disappointed to have lost the Janus case, the Supreme Court’s decision to define as political every single thing we do as a union has had the perhaps unintended and unexpected benefit of bringing the clarity that comes with getting back to basics. At the national, state, and local levels, the renewed focus on membership that Janus has demanded of all public sector unions—recruiting new members, deepening the commitment of current ones—has also energized renewed discussions of what it means to be a union in the first place. Here, at Nassau Community College, what it means for us to be the NCCFT is enshrined in the language of our contract, which provides for, protects, and therefore makes it possible to nurture almost every aspect of our professional lives.
To put that another way, your active participation in the life of this campus is active participation in the life of our union. Indeed, without your participation, our contract would be nothing more than a bureaucratic document, defining salary and benefits, but with little or no connection to who we are as higher education professionals—which would make it a much easier target for a hostile administration to try to dismantle. The NCCFT contract not only defines salary, work schedules, and benefits; it also codifies the Academic Senate, the Promotion and Tenure Committee, governance within academic departments, the Sabbatical Committee, along with academic freedom and many aspects of our professional growth, including:
- Our participation in the Academic Senate, which now includes all constituents of the campus community: the NCCFT, the administration, the NCCAA, the AFA, the CSEA, and students.
- Our participation in the Academic Senate and on the committees of the Academic Senate, whether they are elected, appointed, or ad hoc.
- Our ability to elect our Academic Department Chairpersons, members of our departmental Personnel and Budget Committees, the Senators who represent us on the Academic Senate, and the members of the Promotion & Tenure and Sabbatical Committees.
- Our ability as departments, within the terms defined by our contract, to govern ourselves, including curriculum, the setting of qualifications, hiring, and scheduling.
- Our ability to establish the criteria for, review, and recommend faculty promotions, tenure, reclassifications and sabbaticals.
- Our rights to academic freedom in the classroom and in our research, in our membership in professional organizations, in our ability to organize, chair, and attend professional development workshops, whether they are on or off campus.
Because our professional lives are so synonymous with our union lives in this way—or, to put it a little differently, because our contract creates such a stable professional life for us, it also supports many of our activities that are not explicitly codified within it. The Faculty Student Association, for example, is the governing board in the administration of student activities funding. NCCFT faculty have 5 seats on this board and have historically served as its President and Chairperson. NCCFT faculty are also the faculty advisors to the 100+ clubs and organizations whose funding the FSA oversees, and we serve as well as coaches on our athletic teams. In addition, organizations we have formed on campus to address the needs and concerns of specific groups of faculty, staff, and students also depend on NCCFT members for leadership and participation. These groups include ALANA, WFA, LAS, JSA, the NEWMAN Club, and the Veterans House.
Over the years, the NCCFT has also negotiated significant improvements into our contract. For example, we addressed the participation of our non-classroom faculty on the Promotion & Tenure and Sabbatical Committees, as well as long-standing issues of concern like emergency days and scheduling incentives. We made sure LINCC faculty would be entitled to sabbaticals. Before marriage equality became the law of the land, we addressed the issue of domestic partnerships, which was of considerable importance to our LGBTQ faculty. And in our most recent contract, we negotiated a contractually bound commitment on the part of the NCCFT and the college administration to provide a mechanism to attract a more diverse faculty and administration. This diversity includes race, religion, gender/gender identity, national origin, physical or psychological impairment or age.
While the contract is the primary source of our strength on campus, our affiliations with state and national unions like NYSUT, the AFT, the NEA, and the AFL-CIO, as well as our membership in the Long Island Federation of Labor, provide us with logistical, legislative, and political support, while also giving us access to a level of influence we would never be able to achieve on our own. (Not to mention the individual cost savings we can enjoy through the various member benefit programs offered by these organizations.)
Members of the NCCFT, for example, attended the recent NYSUT Community College Conference in Cooperstown, NY where we participated in workshops on how to create a sense of inclusion and awareness of the union within our ranks. Members of your Executive Committee took on leadership roles at the conference. Professor Donna Hope (NCCFT-VP) was on the planning committee for the conference. Prof. Hope also served as a workshop moderator as did Ms. Dawn Smith (NCCFT-VP) and Prof. Caroline Falconetti (NCCFT-Treasurer), while Prof. Richard Newman (NCCFT-Secretary) served as a presenter at the “Be the Union” workshop.
When any one of your union leaders says We are the union, they mean everything I have just described for you and more. Imagine life at Nassau Community College without our collective bargaining agreement, without our collective commitment to protecting, preserving, and growing it, without the work you and your colleagues do on campus to put the provisions of our contract into action, as well as the work you do off campus to make sure we have the political and legislative support we need, as well as the support of our state and national affiliates, to ensure the continued integrity of our contract. Our professional lives would be dictated by management. Ask yourself if that’s a college you would want to work at.
We are entering a time when our commitment to unionism and to each other will be tested. I look forward to standing shoulder to shoulder with you as we show we are up to the challenge.