WeRise Rally takes place at Silo, Sproul Hall

NICHOLAS CHAN / AGGIE

UC-AFT union representing lecturers, librarians promotes solidarity on campus

UC-AFT, a union representing lecturers and librarians on the UC Davis campus, held a rally on Wednesday, Feb. 28. Tabling in front of the Silo and Sproul Hall, union members were eager to talk to passersby about their concern regarding the Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME. In this case, Illinois public employee Mark Janus is arguing that his requirement to pay fair share fees to his union —  although he is not a member — is a violation of his free speech. Fair share fees are dues that workers who are not members of a union pay to the union that represents them. Arguments for this case were heard by the Supreme Court the Monday before the rally took place.

“This rally is called WeRise and what we’re doing is getting all of our union members together and aware of this Supreme Court case that is happening right now, which is called Janus v. AFSCME, which basically is being viewed as sort of an attack on all public unions around the country,” said Katie Rodger, a lecturer in the University Writing Program. “All of us could be affected by this Supreme Court case. Today is an information campaign and also a launch of what we are calling a recommitment effort, where we are going to ask our existing members to recommit to staying strong and part of our union.”

Rodger described the recommitment process and why it is significant to union members and leaders.

“[The recommitment effort] entails filling out a recommitment card which is a card that just says ‘I’m sticking with the union,’” Rodger said. “If the Supreme Court rules, for example, that we would need to start over again and sign people up for the union from scratch, this would be a way for us to know which people are already on board. It’s also a way really to energize people who might just be going to work everyday and [who are] not really too engaged with how the union has helped secure contracts and better wages and benefits for them.”

When asked how the union might approach individuals who do not want to sign a recommitment card, Rodger said union members were just hoping to get the chance to talk to those individuals.

“There are a lot of people who have problems or concerns about our union and we would really like to know what those things are because it is a union that represents all of us and we want it to be representative of people’s concerns as well,” Rodger said. “[I hope this rally will] raise our presence and visibility on campus, to get people excited, to get people really ready to act. We are not sure what action is going to look like yet; we are waiting for the Supreme Court to send down their decision but really being ready, I think, is primary.”

John Rundin, a lecturer in the classics program and the president of UC-AFT on the UC Davis campus, explained the different arguments of the Janus v. AFSCME case.

“For the longest time, the right wing in this country has wanted to defund unions and has wanted to basically destroy unions,” Rundin said. “Their strategy in this case was to claim that [the payment of fair share fees] is forced political speech. That is, when we force people to give us money even though they are not members, we are essentially forcing them to engage in political speech and that is against the First Amendment of the Constitution because you have a right to free speech.”

Rundin explained the union’s disagreement with this position, stating that a large portion of union fees supports efforts such as contract negotiation.

“The union has a lot of business here; we have to talk to the university and negotiate contracts and we also have to represent our members in various university administrative and legal proceedings,” Rundin said. “In other words, we have a lot of expenses that we incur that have nothing to do with politics, it’s simply the management of the workplace. Currently, if you’re not a member and you don’t want to support the political work of the union, what you can do is opt […] out of paying the portion of the money you pay that goes towards politics. It is true that we do a certain amount of lobbying and stuff like that, but you don’t have to pay for that […] and that’s been the state of affairs for a long time.”

Explaining the significance of fair share fees to the union, Rundin made a comparison between public sector unions and city councils.

“We are actually chartered by the state of California,” Rundin said. “We are really sort of a body of governance within the union and within the workplace. We are very democratic and we are kind of like a city council in that city councils are created by the state government. City councils have the right to raise taxes on those people who they are overseeing. Just because you don’t agree with the politics or whatever of the city council, that doesn’t mean you can stop paying. Essentially, when you say that people who are not members don’t have to pay union fees, it’s kind of like saying, ‘Oh, well, if you don’t agree with the city council, you don’t have to pay your taxes.’ That’s just not true. In order to have a functioning society, people have to pay taxes and fees of various sorts just to maintain things and keep things going. That’s our opinion: that we are doing nothing different from many other bodies.”

Rundin said he feels it is fair that both union members and non-members pay dues because the union has to represent all workers in its jurisdiction. Rundin expressed his thoughts on what he believes the Janus v. AFSCME case symbolizes.

“Basically, this is an attempt to defund public unions,” Rundin said. “It’s a major attack on the middle class. There is something like 21 million public employees in the U.S. and this is something that is aimed right at them in an attempt, more or less, to kick them out of the middle class. In most places, being a lecturer is a horrible job: it’s low pay, lots of work and no job security. Our union has managed to win for us livable pay, relative job security and all sorts of protections that other people lack. If they kill our union, that stuff will all eventually go away and eventually this job will become a very bad job.”

Rundin mentioned another reason why the union relies on fair-share fees in order to function, which has to do with temporary lecturers. There are a significant amount of lecturers on campus “here for just a quarter or two quarters” and it can take a while before the union has “a good list of who the lecturers on campus are.”

“If [the Supreme Court] decides that non-members don’t have to pay fees, we need to have people informed about how important the union is,” Rundin said. “If you talk about permanent lecturers here, lecturers who are career lecturers here, like me, tend to be members at really high rates. But, [for] lecturers who are here for a quarter or two quarters or maybe a year, [the rate] is much lower because they never even had a chance to hear from us. There is a big portion of our population that consists of lecturers who might not even be aware the union exists and therefore haven’t joined. Right away, if you’re [just] talking about those people, that’s a big chunk of our revenue that we would lose immediately [if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Janus].”

According to a flyer given out by UC-AFT members at the rally, better working conditions and the continuation of livable pay for lecturers impacts not just them, but also students: “[lecturers] support students by holding office hours, mentoring and advising, writing letters of recommendation for internships, jobs, and graduate school, nominating students for awards.” Their slogan is “lecturers’ teaching conditions are students’ learning conditions.” According to another flyer, the union will be holding workshops throughout March in support of union activity.

Written by: Sabrina Habchi  — campus@theaggie.org