Some inspiring stories have been appearing in the Communicator for the last few months. Here’s one in the series titled “The Value of the Union”

“Be glad you are in a union and stay involved,” is the message Lisa Kannenberg is sending to all PEF members.

Kannenberg is a history professor at the College of St. Rose in Albany. Her experiences have emphasized how being a union member makes a big difference in all walks of work life.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Kannenberg easily recognized the benefits of organized labor. She was a factory worker in the electrical industry, and an active member of the United Electrical Workers.

“Most of the time, I worked in a very large shop in Pittsburgh that employed about 3,000 people. I was very active there as a shop steward and head of several union committees such as publicity and education. Sometimes, I would get a call from an unorganized shop, and would go there and recruit people for an organizing committee. It was really good. I had worked in non-union shops before, and especially in factories, there is no recourse. There is nothing. You have no way of protecting yourself from any kind of managerial decision. The union gives you a lot of protection.

“It is just infinitely better to work union than non-union,” Kannenberg said.

Changes throughout time

The electrical industry got wiped out, along with other industries, so Kannenberg returned to school, changed careers and became a professor of history. For nearly 20 years at the College of St. Rose, Kannenberg described the working atmosphere as respectful, professional and a collaborative effort among the faculty and administration.

“We were able to practice shared governance. That’s a philosophy where the administration oversees the financial aspects and student recruitment, while the faculty is in charge of the curriculum and programs. The professors have had the main say about program development or elimination,” she said.

Not any more

A new administration took over the helm at St. Rose, and there has been a lot of managerial turnover. The result has been crushing for some of the staff.

“Job security is pretty much out the window,” Kannenberg said. “The administration decided without any input who is going to be laid off. Last spring, we lost 23 staff people. And in December, another 23 faculty were fired, including tenured professors. That is a violation of governance procedures in our faculty manual.

“The administration also is re-founding the college by changing its orientation from a liberal arts college to a pre-professional school with an emphasis on hot topic careers. It has become more like job training than providing a liberal arts education. We have had nothing to say about it. In doing this, the administration has eviscerated the shared governance tradition of the college.”

The administrators also have severed communication among the faculty by dismantling a listserv email system. Kannenberg said the email system had provided for lively discussions among faculty and was part of the college culture. Without it, professors cannot quickly respond or even acknowledge messages from other faculty members.

Time to go union

The faculty at St. Rose is not taking these changes lightly. Those fired have filed complaints with the internal faculty review committee to establish they have followed procedure.

“Basically we have lost control of our work and our jobs. A union is the way to ensure we have some protection. In higher education, public institutions can unionize but private schools cannot. That’s largely due to the Yeshiva College decision from the 1980s when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled with management, saying the faculty had control over its work and participated in hiring decisions, so were not considered employees and were ineligible to form a union,” Kannenberg said.

However, there have been recent NLRB rulings that have been chipping away at the Yeshiva decision. That, and the spirit of activism, determination and quest for fairness, has fueled the St. Rose faculty.

They are trying to organize with the Service Employees International Union, and have organized a chapter in the American Association of University Professors.

“We are collecting cards now and planning to present them to the administration. We have a majority at this point, but want a significant majority. The administration can voluntarily recognize us as a union and allow us to organize. If they refuse, we would have to go the NLRB route. What we are trying to do is not impossible, but it is not a given under the labor law,” Kannenberg said.

“There is no alternative than to try to regain some kind of voice on the job.”

— Story By DEBORAH A. MILES in the upcoming February 2016 edition of The Communicator

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