Shirley Jackson (Credit: Dave Sanders)
The members came from across CUNY, from York College, the Advanced Science Research Center, City College and other campuses. And they came with one goal: to reach out to colleagues who are not PSC members and listen to their concerns. In turn they would build union power through these conversations by signing colleagues up as new members.
At a recent training led by the New York State United Teachers’ (NYSUT) Member Organizing Institute, PSC’s state affiliate union, organizers talked about how they teach members go about these one-on-one conversations and the important of organizing on campus.
“We ask them to think about their why: why they’re active in the union, why they’re doing this work, why are they sitting here today. We lead into how to have strong relational one-on-one conversations,” said Megan O’Brien, a NYSUT organizing manager who leads trainings.
The goal is to establish a systemic approach to talking to colleagues about becoming union members. Organizers help members break down their conversation by focusing on eliciting and listening to a member’s story, imparting information about the union and talking about the contract, identifying potential challenges, developing a vision and a plan for a better workplace and making the “ask” to become a union member. But it’s not just about having these conversations, it is also about putting the skills into practice.
“It’s a relational conversation,” O’Brien said. “[It’s about] going out to talk to colleagues and getting to know them, understand them, meet them where they’re at. [It’s] asking them questions and having that build into a conversation about the value of a union.”
For Nathan Nikolic, an adjunct lecturer in English at Hunter and Baruch colleges, the training covered many concepts that he already knew, but the true value of the day was putting it into play.
“I think most of the stuff I’ve heard in one form or another before. It’s really hard to do. Any time you get to practice that I think is just a fantastic opportunity to reinforce some of the ideas and strategies,” Nikolic said.
The PSC is focused on increasing membership density by signing hundreds of CUNY faculty and staff up for the union that already represents them. Going into a contract campaign, unity is of the utmost importance, PSC leaders said. Increasing union density has become especially important since the US Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME to make it possible for public-sector employees who decide not to join a union to not pay dues even though they reap the benefits of union-negotiated collective bargaining agreements.
Training union members to have one-on-one conversations is just one tactic of the membership campaign. Union activists, local campus action teams (CATS), PSC organizers and the PSC One-on-One Committee are reaching out through phone conversations, office visits, classroom visits and new hire orientations to people who have not signed up for the union yet.
For Shirley Jackson, an adjunct lecturer in geology at York College, being a part of a union in the first years of her job gave her the peace of mind that she needed, and she wants that security for her colleagues.
“I’m all about the village, the empowerment, what you can do as a group,” she said. “To me it’s bigger than the union, it’s about society as a whole.”
For Phoebe Glick, an adjunct lecturer in the English department at Baruch College, becoming involved in the union was her chance to get to know her colleagues and connect around shared values.
Anna Feld (left) signing up to become a union member. (Credit: Dave Sanders)
“As an adjunct, it’s a very solo job. You come to campus and teach a class,” Glick said. “You might sit for office hours and leave. You can do that for a while without getting to know teachers. Being involved in the union and specific chapters and committees has been totally fun and social.”
One of the big takeaways for Glick was learning how to translate pro-union values into actual one-on-conversations with colleagues that she’s just met.
Enrique Mejía, a graduate research assistant in the Optics Lab at the Advanced Science Research Center, hopes to bring his colleague’s concerns to the union and build membership there.
“It’s a breakthrough moment for the sciences and the PSC,” said Mejía, pointing out that there’s increased interest in the PSC at the center. “I want to do what I can to help improve working conditions on the ground and at my workplace.”
New hires are eager to join the union, too. Michael McNabb became an adjunct college laboratory technician at LaGuardia Community College this March and joined the PSC almost immediately. “I’ve always been supportive of unions,” he said. Because unions are democratic organizations that need funding for organizing and advocacy, McNabb said he believed it was imperative for all bargaining unit workers to join the PSC and pay dues. “You get the benefits because of the money,” he said. “Without funding, the union can’t fight.”
McNabb said that joining also ensured that CUNY faculty and staff have a say in union affairs. “You get a seat at the table.”
Additional reporting by Ari Paul
Published: June 21, 2023
Last Modified: July 14, 2023