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Author Topic: classes off-campus = crossing picket line?  (Read 28214 times)
sockster
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« on: March 29, 2012, 10:41:11 PM »

There is a strike on my campus (not the faculty). Our faculty union allows us to refuse to cross a picket line, and I cancelled classes this week. But the end of term is fast approaching, and I have a small class of graduating seniors. I have lined up a meeting room at the public library where we can hold our last few sessions if the strike doesn't get settled soon. (Actually the library room is much more pleasant than our classroom and probably more convenient for most of the students.)

I feel very strongly about not crossing a picket line, and I am struggling because I think I will violate my own code of ethics if I hold class at all. To me, the point of a strike is to disrupt "business as usual" so management will come to terms. In theory, the disruption would be such that students would insist the administration get busy to settle this thing. If I simply move my class elsewhere, I'm not contributing to the disruption. Thus, I'm undermining the union's effort.

At the same time, it's very important to me that my students graduate, and I don't want to do anything that will interfere with that. I cannot think of any acceptable alternative way to evaluate them that doesn't involve meeting as a group (this is a discussion-based class, and two students still have to present).

I think the administration is in the wrong on the issues at stake, and I'm angry that we've heard virtually nothing from them about how they plan to resolve the dispute. I've written to the university president to express my dismay about the lack of communication, planning, etc. FWIW, I am tenured.

Any thoughts about this?
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academic_cog
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WWW
« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2012, 11:33:02 PM »

This is important, because holding classes off campus may count as "partial striking" or "partial work" and make you vulnerable to disciplinary action where you would normally be protected under the contract. You could get in big trouble and the union not be able to protect you. This was the case in our grad student (TA/GA/tutor) union contract and we spent a lot of time making sure that our members knew about this.

I would go talk to your reps or someone who knows the contract and law very well.

Could you hold off on these sessions and make them up later?
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daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #2 on: March 30, 2012, 12:33:08 AM »

Normally this would in fact be deemed crossing the picket line. - DvF
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crowie
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« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2012, 1:42:35 AM »

Contact the union that is striking and ask them what they are requesting that faculty do.  I have known of striking unions that have actually requested that other workers on campus, such as faculty, do things like take classes off campus as an act of solidarity.  I would also be careful about canceling classes altogether; if you are not a member of the officially striking union you could be accused of being a wildcat striker.  But the best thing to do is to ask the striking union what they actually want from you, as they will (or should) have a strategy in mind for their supporters who are not in the union.
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betterslac
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« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2012, 3:52:52 AM »

During the clerical workers' unionizations strike at Yale in 1984, the clerical workers (as well as the blue collar workers who supported them) encouraged faculty to hold classes off campus. So one day a week I went to the basement of the local Catholic church. The next day I had class in the basement of the local Planned Parenthood.

So we went from pictures of saints, to posters of Ron Cey with the caption that using birth control allowed him to go to the big leagues rather than ending up in a weekend beer league (how that cause and effect argument worked, I'm not sure).
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tinyzombie
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« Reply #5 on: March 30, 2012, 6:47:25 AM »

During the clerical workers' unionizations strike at Yale in 1984, the clerical workers (as well as the blue collar workers who supported them) encouraged faculty to hold classes off campus. So one day a week I went to the basement of the local Catholic church. The next day I had class in the basement of the local Planned Parenthood.

So we went from pictures of saints, to posters of Ron Cey with the caption that using birth control allowed him to go to the big leagues rather than ending up in a weekend beer league (how that cause and effect argument worked, I'm not sure).

No kids for whom to stay near home.

OP, I have no advice, but I sympathize. Good luck.
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monsterx
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« Reply #6 on: March 30, 2012, 7:05:55 AM »

Contact your union about it, or see if they have a FAQ on their website.  If you are at a state university, state labor law will apply and it will be different in different states, exactly what you can do in the situation.  Also, they will have a strategy which reflects the law and the circumstances - so you should support whatever that strategy is.

If the union is asking you to take a risk, they will tell you that.  If you don't feel comfortable with the risk, and don't feel comfortable not following union policy, one alternative is to call in sick.  *cough* *cough*  But probably they won't ask you to do something which puts you at disciplinary risk, unless the union is strong enough to back up its members, should management attempt to victimize them.
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polly_mer
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« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2012, 7:38:00 AM »

Oh, just cross the damn picket line and do what is right for your students.  Hide out in the public library if you worry about someone thinking badly of you for choosing education over whatever the union is striking about.
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daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #8 on: March 30, 2012, 7:56:48 AM »

You can't hide from yourself, even in a library. - DvF
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sockster
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« Reply #9 on: March 30, 2012, 9:13:13 AM »

Thanks for everyone's thoughts so far; you have confirmed what I suspected. One thing that troubles me: I think the administration's strategy is actually to put the burden on the faculty to make or break the strike. The striking union members are too small a group to shut the place down on their own (though they're making it mighty inconvenient to get to campus, which in my view is a good thing). The only communication we've had from the administration is along the lines of, "Faculty, remember not to shirk your responsibilities (and it's your responsibility to make sure students graduate on time)." That they've said nothing else tells me the weight is on our shoulders now. I resent being used as pawns like this.

If the strike goes much longer, the faculty senate will need to decide if the semester will run longer and if exams will be rescheduled.
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monsterx
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« Reply #10 on: March 30, 2012, 9:20:16 AM »

If the faculty wins this thing for the the striking group, you can be sure that group will be there for you if you go on strike in the future.  Otherwise, the administrative sharks will smell blood in the water, and start a policy of divide and conquer.   Do the right thing period, for yourself and for your striking colleagues.
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seniorscholar
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« Reply #11 on: March 30, 2012, 10:07:48 AM »

When the faculty at my R-1 were last on strike (20 years ago now) the other unions supported us wholeheartedly; and at the end of negotiations, when a settlement was in sight, we (1) negotiated a rescheduled make-up period for students [actually, the judge overseeing the settlement asked "can't you just have them stay an hour longer every day," making us -- as well as our lawyer -- wonder if the judge had actually attended college] and (2) negotiated no reprisals for the other unions. But then this is a very large campus with unions galore, including the hospital's nurses and other health professionals, so the unions have clout.

However, we turned down the local teamsters' union head's offer to block all the entrances to campus with big trucks . . .

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oldfullprof
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« Reply #12 on: March 30, 2012, 12:34:06 PM »

I won't cross a picket line.
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« Reply #13 on: March 30, 2012, 1:37:54 PM »

I sympathize, but I am not at all certain that I would do anything to prevent a kid from graduating, just to make a political statement.
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offthemarket
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« Reply #14 on: March 30, 2012, 2:00:16 PM »

Holding a class is crossing a picket line, regardless of where you do it, online, in a library, wherever.

You're working instead of striking. If you want to cross the picket line, just frickin' cross it.

If you want the students to graduate, but not cross the picket line, just give them work appropriate to what would have happened in class, before the strike starts, and then grade it at the right time.  If the semester ending is put off, just give the students incompletes, and when the strike ends, give them the grades that they need.

As you wrote, it is clear that the admin is using your concern for students as way to break the will of the faculty.  But remember that it is the administration screwing over the students, not you, because they're the ones that created the conditions leading to the strike.  Clearly, students are among the biggest victims in a strike, that's unfortunately the nature of the business.  However, many students will recognize that faculty working conditions are student learning conditions. Undersupported faculty will result in poor conditions for students. It's hard to look at this big picture while you're not graduating because of a strike, but this is a valid and good way to look at it.
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