Published in the February 13, 2015 Noozhawk

On Feb. 3, the Part-Time Faculty Association of Allan Hancock College, California Federation of Teachers Local 6185 and representatives of the Allan Hancock Joint Community College District signed a three-year collective bargaining agreement.

The new agreement is a testament to the hard work both sides did over the course of more than a year of negotiating. It also represents significant improvements in both pay and working conditions for the part-time academic employees at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, as well as a victory for union organizing and the fact that unions, like the Phoenix of Greek myth, are on the rise again.

Some of the highlights of the new agreement include:

» An 8 percent across-the-board increase in pay for all members of the bargaining unit over the next two years.

» An additional 20 percent increase in pay for part-time counselors, librarians and nurses.

» A 50 percent increase in office hours for credit faculty, starting in the fall of 2015.

» A 25 percent increase in professional development opportunities for all part-time academic employees.

» Beginning this fall, all part-time head coaches will receive the same stipend for their work as full-time head coaches.

» Free parking for all bargaining unit members — already in effect since fall 2014 — is now officially part of the collective bargaining agreement. (In the past, part-time academic employees had to pay to park on any of the Hancock campuses.)

There is more but the essence is that this new agreement represents a significant improvement in the lives of the part-time academic employees at Hancock College (the Part-Time Faculty Association represents not only adjunct faculty at Hancock but also the part-time counselors, librarians, nurses, coaches — all part-time academic employees, more than 500 in total).

It also is reflective of a new awareness on the part not only of the teachers but of the larger community as to the importance of unionism when it comes to improving the lives of working people.

In Greek mythology, the Phoenix is a great bird that rises from the dead. Even when destroyed by fire, the Phoenix comes out of the ashes to live again.

Unions are like the Phoenix. Rising from the ashes of near-extinction, and facing unrelenting assaults by the wealthiest and most powerful people and corporations in the country, they are on the march once again to represent American workers in their fight for justice and equality.

In just two years, the Part-Time Faculty Association has added 258 new members to its ranks. Union membership is on the rise all across the country, despite the efforts of anti-worker, anti-union politicians in many states.

In 2013, union membership grew in the private sector at the highest rate in 30 years! In the public sector, for many years the last bastion of unionism, it is growing as well. The American Federation of Teachers has grown by 200,000 in just the past year, to 1.6 million members from 1.4 million, and the numbers continue to increase.

More significantly, the desire of workers to unionize is growing exponentially. Polls consistently show 57 percent or more of nonunion workers would like to join a union. Fast-food workers all over the country have been marching and demonstrating for increased pay and the right to join a union.

Why the increased interest in unionizing? To start, unionized workers earn more money — an average of $200 a week more, or more than $10,400 a year. Unionized workers are more likely to have health and medical benefits, better working conditions, more job security, and are treated with greater respect and dignity by their employers.

During the golden age of the American middle class, from approximately 1945 to 1980, taxes on the wealthy and corporations were high, government regulations and programs to help the ordinary person rise above his/her station in life were plentiful, and unions were strong.

During this “brief, shining moment,” the American middle class reached its apogee in terms of its living standard. It grew and it flourished, and opportunities to move up the socio-economic ladder were plentiful.

Those days ended with the election of fiercely anti-union, anti-worker, pro-corporation Ronald Reagan in 1980. Peddling his theory of “trickle-down economics,” that if the rich get richer the rest of the people will benefit, he oversaw the start of the unbalanced system we have now, or, as Shakespeare said in Hamlet, “the times are out of joint.”

The times are out of joint when there is more economic mobility in Europe than in the United States, a bitter pill to swallow for those who cling desperately to the notion that America is still the land of opportunity.

The times are out of joint when the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans now have more money than the bottom 90 percent combined. In 2010, 93 percent of the additional income created by the recovery went to the top 1 percent. From 2010 to 2013, the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans saw their incomes increase by 2 percent, while the rest saw their incomes fall by 5 percent.

The times are out of joint when one in four American corporations pays no income tax.

The times are out of joint when 3,000 tax filers with incomes above $2 million dollars pay no income tax.

The times are out of joint when the average corporate CEO earns 475 times what the average worker makes (in the 1970s that ratio was 45-to-1).

The times are out of joint when that same CEO earns 933 times what a person being paid minimum wage earns.

Such economic inequality has not been seen in the United States in 100 years. Far too much has been going to far too few. It is time for that to change.

There are those who say that pointing this out is just being envious, which is like saying that someone who complains about a rigged game in Las Vegas is just being a sore loser. The game is rigged in favor of the few over the many. It was not always like that. It is time to change the game and make it fair once more.

Unions form a counterbalance to the power of the rich and of corporations. While some political commentators speak of “Big Business” and “Big Labor” in the same breath, implying they are somewhat equal in the political arena, David and Goliath is a more appropriate analogy. On average, corporations outspend unions 15-to-1 in political campaigns — a testimony to the rise of corporate power and the loss of union power over the past generation.

The new collective-bargaining agreement at Hancock, the increase in union membership there and nationwide, are both reflections of what is going on in the rest of the country. Like the Phoenix, unions are coming back to life — to work for the benefit of all, not just the few.

Mark James Miller, President, Part-Time Faculty Association of Allan Hancock College, CFT Local 6185, Santa Maria, CA