Yesterday more than a thousand California State University (CSU) faculty members, students, and their supporters marched through Long Beach, California to the CSU Office of the Chancellor, where the CSU Board of Trustees was meeting, to rally and voice their support for the California Faculty’s Association’s “Fight for Five.” After years of declining real salaries, CFA is seeking an across-the-board increase of 5%. CSU management has refused to consider more than 2%. Earlier this month 94.4% of faculty voting in a referendum authorized the union to take strike action if an agreement is not reached through the statutory process.
The loud and spirited march and rally boosted morale among faculty across the system. For those who could not attend, the CFA organized “watch parties” on each of the system’s 23 campuses, where supporters could follow a livestream video feed of both the march and rally and the trustees’ meeting. And the trustees and their Chancellor, Timothy White, received a powerful message that they need to change their priorities.
Here’s what the march looked like as it approached the Chancellor’s Office:
CFA says its salaries have flattened for about a decade, with the average full-time salary for a professor standing at $64,479. The average salary for all faculty, including lecturers, is about $44,000.
“I keep thinking that you all don’t believe the members of the bargaining team when we say that faculty are hurting and angry,” CFA President Jennifer Eagan, a professor of philosophy and public administration at CSU East Bay, told trustees during their open meeting. “We have communicated that at the bargaining table. We have communicated that here at the Board of Trustees on several occasions and through the media. I ask you to please believe us now.”
The rally also heard from several members of the California Legislature, including current Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and incoming Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood). Atkins, who as Speaker serves on the CSU Board of Trustees, was in Long Beach to participate in the board’s meeting. Speaking at that meeting she told her fellow board members:
CSU built up a lot of goodwill in the Legislature this year, and my colleagues and I appreciated the University’s approach of no tuition-increase threats, their relative restraint on executive compensation, and their working collaboratively with students, faculty, staff, and alumni to make CSU’s case. Those actions, and CSU’s commitment to prioritizing the enrollment of more California students and improving graduation rates, helped secure more money from the state. Stonewalling on needed and deserved salary increases for faculty will chip away at legislators’ confidence in the system, and maintaining that confidence is imperative as we fight to bring additional funding to CSU.
Atkins noted that the CSU was taking the system to the brink of strike by insisting it cannot raise faculty pay by more than 2%, even though CSU faculty members at all 23 campuses are working at below-2004 wages.
“There is still time to fix things, and I urge the CSU administration to go back to the bargaining table and find a reasonable resolution that properly values faculty and addresses the fact that faculty need to be better paid,” Atkins said.
Kevin Wehr, sociology professor at Sacramento State and chair of CFA’s bargaining team, told trustees the union doesn’t want to strike but is prepared to do so.
“Do I really need to remind you that without faculty there is no education in the CSU?” Wehr asked the trustees. “The university only works because we work. You will be making a huge error if you misjudge our ability to bring the system to a halt.”
The rally also heard from representatives of student groups, other CSU staff unions, and state and local labor leaders, including Art Pulaski, head of the California Labor Federation. An especially moving moment in the rally came when CFA Political Director Djibril Diop, a French citizen and a Muslim, spoke in memory of CSU Long Beach student Nohemi Gonzalez, who perished in the Paris attacks, and all other victims of terrorism and state violence, leading to a moving moment of silence.
AAUP Western Regional Coordinator Jason Elias and I were among the AAUP members (CFA is an AAUP affiliate) in attendance and I had the honor of also addressing the crowd to convey the support of our more than 40,000 members for the fight for five. I noted as well that CFA’s fight was part of a rising tide of faculty resistance everywhere to corporatization and deprofessionalization and in support of genuinely accessible, affordable, and high quality higher education for the common good. I noted that faculty members at the City University of New York (CUNY), who have worked without a contract for six years are also in the process of preparing a strike authorization vote, even though public employees in New York are denied the legal right to strike. I spoke as well about recent events in Iowa and Wisconsin and the Scott Walker-style attacks launched in Connecticut by Democratic Governor Dan Malloy in bargaining with AAUP unions at Connecticut State University and the University of Connecticut. I told the demonstrators that faculty at all those institutions look to them for inspiration and that their fight is everybody’s fight.
I can’t close without adding that the march and rally were, well, a heckuva lot of fun. It was great to see colleagues and students from all over the state, to see service workers and hotel workers (the march passed two Long Beach hotels currently under boycott for unresolved labor disputes), all standing together and enjoying their collective strength. The sea of picket signs were something else, too. Signs included “2 percent 2 low” and “2 percent blows! Show some respect Tim,” in reference to Chancellor Timothy P. White, who was appointed three years ago. And there was even a reference to Dickens: “Two is too tiny, Tim!”
But my favorite sign, the one that I carried throughout the more than mile-long march, had a photo of White on one side with the caption, “Meet the new boss.” And on the other was a photo of much-and-deservedly loathed former Chancellor Charles Reed, with the caption, “Same as the old boss.” Reed was a notorious and unusually obnoxious enemy of faculty. White arrived with the promise of a new atmosphere and, unlike Reed, he’s reportedly a quite amiable fellow. But, it would seem, at the most important level nothing has changed. And that’s why I, as both a retired CSU faculty member and on behalf of the AAUP, have joined the Fight for Five!
Here are a few more photos from the event: