How I Got Here:
The story of how I came to be the PFA President is a classic case of someone who did not want to get involved.
I began teaching English, part-time, at Allan Hancock College in 1995 and realized right away that the treatment of the part-time faculty left a lot to be desired. Our hard work and dedication to our students were rarely if ever acknowledged. We are all but invisible to the larger campus community. We had no rights, and could be dismissed by our dean on a whim. There was no grievance process, no collective bargaining agreement, and the pay was much lower than that of the other community colleges such as Cuesta and Santa Barbara City.
Nor did I have any idea that at least 70% of the instructors at Hancock were part-time, or that this was close to the average ratio of full-to-part time throughout the entire California Community College system.
A few years later I began to hear that a group of part-time instructors at Hancock were working toward forming a union. At first I paid this little attention, thinking nothing would come of it. But as time went on and these folks continued their efforts, I began to take more notice, and in 1999 they organized an election in which 87% of the part-time instructors voted yes to forming a union, I was delighted, but still did not see myself playing any role in what they were doing.
All this time, however, a little voice had been urging me to get involved and help these people out, because I could tell that none of them had ever done anything like this before. “You have a union background,” the little voice said. “You have knowledge and skills that could make a difference in what these people are trying to do.”
In my younger days I worked for four years in the construction trades as a millwright, and another six years as a welder-mechanic in a cement plant. Both these jobs were unionized, and I had spent one year working in a non-unionized forging shop. It was in the latter that I saw first-hand the difference between unionized and non-unionized work, and that difference is practically beyond measure.
But at the same time I, like most part-time teachers, was running myself ragged as I tried to cobble a living together. I taught at Hancock, I taught at Chapman College (now Brandman), and I worked as a Home-Hospital Teacher for the Lucia Mar School District, while at the same time putting my son through Cal Poly. Where could I find the time to get involved in this fledgling Part-Time Faculty Association? Then one day I witnessed an incident that changed all that.
I walked into a workroom on the Hancock campus and witnessed a dean giving several part-time instructors a frightful tongue-lashing. What sin they had committed I never learned. But the looks on the faces of these people shook me: They stood with their heads hanging, with the hurt, the resentment, and the humiliation they felt all in plain view. They were faced with an unacceptable choice: Take this abuse or talk back and get fired. This scene put me over the edge. You can’t stand by any longer, my conscience said. You’ve got to do something.
So I began going to union meetings, trying to help out in whatever way I could. Our office at this time was a hole in the wall in the Columbia Business Center (some people called it “The Cave”). Before long I found myself on the Executive Board, and soon after I was the Vice-President. Then Deborah Brasket, who had done an amazing amount of work in putting all this together, had to resign for personal reasons, and so in late 2001 I became president of our Association. In 2002 I was elected in my own right, and was elected again in 2006, 2010, and 2014.
During these years I have seen great changes take place for the part-time academic workers at Hancock College. We now have a collective bargaining agreement. We now have a grievance procedure. We now have paid office hours. After a 10 year long battle we were able to get seniority rights for our credit instructors, something the District would not even discuss with us when we began. Another 10 year long battle and we were able to get the state parity money put onto the salary schedule.
No one can predict the future, but I firmly believe that the years to come will see even more and better changes for the Part-Time Instructors at Allan Hancock College. (May 4, 2018)
Click to read Mark’s article In Defense Of Unions in the Fall 2011 issue of the California Community College Journal.