“People who work for fast-food corporations like McDonald’s led the way, but the Fight for $15 is now for everyone” (Derick Smith, Adjunct Faculty at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University).
As Spelman adjunct philosophy professor Tara Holman knows, “[teaching] would be the best job in the world if I actually made a sustainable, living wage.” Too many of us in higher education know the truth, though: there is no such thing as a sustainable, living wage for most adjunct faculty in our nation given the widespread deprofessionalization caused by top-down management of federal, dwindling state, and private resources. This is why we’re fighting to change the market failure by design, and as adjunct professor Cheryl DeFlavis says: “I believe that we will win.”
In an interview with The American Prospect’s Justin Miller, Reverend Dr. William Barber II lays out five critical moral issues of our time:
Economic sustainability—a living wage and labor rights; education equality—every child should have receive a high-quality, well-financed, diverse public education. Health care for all; protecting the environment and women’s health; criminal justice reform—the way we have disparities with black, brown, and poor white people. And then protecting and expanding voting rights, immigrant rights, LGBT rights, and never giving up on equal protection under the law.1
Faculty hear you, and we’re with you, Rev. Dr. Barber: forward together, not one step back. In unity, adjunct professor April McCoy adds: “Yes, this college professor will be linking arms with fast food workers, child care teachers, and home care workers to fight for higher pay and a voice in our work.”
Graduate student Joe McKinney reflects on the first-ever Fight For $15 National Convention:
Never have I stood in a room shoulder-to-shoulder with people from so many other backgrounds with a common purpose. It is almost bewildering to be standing among university professors and service workers advocating in unity. Too often it feels there is an unspoken divide between the laborer and the educator and it was beautiful to bridge that gap.
The feeling of being unable to change the current conditions of being an expendable worker is frustrating. I am a hard worker, like everyone I was standing among. I will never believe the opposition calling us entitled or lazy. We deserve more. We deserve the right to work hard and be rewarded equitably. We must continue to stand with our human peers like we did at the Fight for $15 National Convention. Not for our benefit, not for their benefit, but for the benefit of every worker in our nation. We are the ones who create, educate, and sweat. We are the ones who go home tired and exhausted. We are all human; we all deserve to be treated as such.
Faculty member Mitch Tropin reports on FF$15 Nat’l Convention highlights:
Faculty gathering from all across the country in Richmond for the Fight for $15 National Convention heard about the considerable progress in organizing educators and made our voices heard on racial justice. At the same time, persistent issues, such as uncooperative college administrations, continue to be a mainstay of faculty unionizing efforts.
Faculty also added their voices to the thousands of convention participants, showing their support for the movement to provide decent wages for millions of workers across the country. Derick Smith of North Carolina A&T spoke for faculty in support of a resolution to continue supporting the Moral Revival Movement, which began in North Carolina. The bright orange of Faculty Forward Network also was easy to spot among those marching through Richmond on Saturday afternoon.
Faculty members from numerous universities and colleges attending the Fight for $15 Convention used the occasion to meet to discuss current developments and share their own stories. The meetings also provided an opportunity for SEIU Faculty Leaders from different parts of the country to meet and discuss ongoing efforts at numerous colleges and share experiences.
The convention further heard Scott Barish, a graduate student at Duke, speak about plans to begin organizing those students. Faculty also took time to discuss the future of legislative proposals to reduce or eliminate student debt and to provide free college classes.
Joe McKinney is a social work (M.S.W.) graduate student at Appalachian State University. His primary research areas include Substance Use Disorder, Adolescent Development, and the Culture of Masculinity.
Mitch Tropin is Treasurer for SEIU Local 500 and Vice President of the Montgomery College Part-Time Faculty Union, which is affiliated with SEIU.
1 Reverend Dr. William Barber II details these “five nonpartisan, human values” further in Forward Together: A Moral Message for the Nation. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2014, 12.