Tag Archives: organizing

May Day

megaphoneIt seems apropos to post this photo here — in honor of both May Day and #tbt. It’s from a long time ago, but still represents how I feel about speaking out: if we don’t do it, who else will? I spoke on behalf of the United University Professional (UUP) Women’s Rights and Concerns Committee today at our May Day rally at SUNY New Paltz. Here’s what I had to say:

The most recent Census Bureau analysis showed that women—still, after several decades of organizing and awareness raising—make only 77% of what men make, or 77 cents to the man’s dollar. In 1955, nearly 60 years ago, women made roughly 65 cents for every dollar men made. Given the amount of information we have today about the disparities between men and women, I believe we can do much, much better. According to a study conducted by the UUP in 2009, male SUNY employees make roughly $11,000, on average, more than their female counterparts. That’s a little more than 20% of my current salary. And I’ll be honest, I could use that extra money every month, given how inflated food, gas, and housing costs are in this region. According to a pay disparity study conducted several years ago by the SUNY New Paltz UUP Women’s Rights and Concerns Committee, this pay disparity is alive and well right here on our campus. I’m here today to talk to you about why it’s not enough to be aware that men still make more than women—it’s time to take action so that we can close the gender gap in pay. After all, as my sign says, “everyone deserves to make a decent living wage.” 

When I agreed to speak at today’s rally, most people were supportive. But, a few people raised the concern that maybe I shouldn’t speak because I’m only in my first year, and I don’t have tenure. I admit I got a little nervous. But then I thought, if we keep acting in fear of what might happen when we stick up for ourselves, raise our voices, and point out what’s not right, we just feed right back into the status quo that keeps it acceptable to think that the value of women’s work is lower than that of men’s.

Aside from the fact that women aren’t paid as much as men on our campus, there is something else that concerns me—both personally and philosophically. And that is our family leave policy. While we, like other institutions of employment throughout our country, operate under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, this legislation is not realistic.

Previous to the implementation of FMLA, families struggled to cobble together a patchwork quilt of care that often proved inconsistent, unreliable, and expensive. If loved ones got sick, became pregnant, or adopted a child prior to 1993, there was no legislation that protected their jobs or allowed them the necessary time to cope with the circumstances that come with caring for ailing family members or young children. But the thing that no one talks about is that this legislation guarantees employees up to 12 weeks—or 3 months—of unpaid leave. Unpaid. FMLA essentially punishes workers for having babies, getting sick, and being the primary caretakers for their loved ones. What kind of logic is that?

I’m going to be very honest with you right now. As a woman in her late 30s who has worked since she was old enough to get her working papers, and who has always wanted to have children, I’m terrified of getting pregnant, because I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford to take a leave without pay. And that brings me to the subject of maternity leave.

There is no clear policy on our campus for maternity leave—or paternity leave, for that matter. I’m told that if I were to become pregnant, I could borrow days from my sick bank. After working here for a full academic year, I will have accumulated about 12 sick days. That means that at this point, if I were to get pregnant, my paid maternity leave could be up to 12 days, or roughly two weeks. Anything after that would be unpaid. With a partner who can’t afford to pay for our expenses on his own, I’m not sure what to do about this lifelong dream I’ve had of having children. I feel incredibly lucky to have been hired in a full-time, tenure-track job, and I absolutely love coming to work every day, but the reality is, I’m not sure I can afford to have a child.

I use myself as an example not to make this all about me, but to say 1) we shouldn’t be afraid of talking about what is real, and 2) arguing for a fair family leave policy for our work should be the norm, not the exception.

I believe the policy should be that if you get sick, pregnant, adopt a child, or have to care for a sick loved one, you get a minimum of 12 weeks of leave and you get paid. They do that and more in other countries, and in one of the richest nations in the world, I think that’s the least we can do for our SUNY workers.

Bullhorn Spotlight

I was interviewed this month for our union chapter’s newsletter, the Bullhorn. I was surprised to see that Jean Anyon makes a cameo appearance!!! I mentioned her in the interview, but didn’t know the author would pull photos from my websites. The picture is from 2007 at an anti-war march in Washington, DC. Something tells me Jean wouldn’t mind being featured in a labor union newsletter…

You can see the full issue of the newsletter here.

UUP Bullhorn Page 1 UUP Bullhorn

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I’m officially a month into being a full-time faculty member at SUNY New Paltz, and couldn’t be happier about my new job so far. Everyone has been welcoming and warm, and I instantly felt at home here. My colleagues are hardworking, supportive, and brilliant, and my students are inquisitive and enthusiastic. And have I mentioned the facility!? Old Main, the building where the School of Education is housed, is the oldest building on campus. It recently underwent a renovation, and although the original stairs and beautiful stain-glass windows were preserved, the interior was completely rebuilt. Each classroom is furnished with smartboards, projectors, and document cameras that, from a pedagogical perspective, make interactive teaching with digital components a seamless possibility.

There have been many moments during the last two weeks when I’ve reached for my phone to call Jean Anyon. Despite my happiness over my new position, I have had a perpetual lump in my throat. I miss her terribly. As I expressed in my last post, she was more than a mentor and professor to me and so many others — she provided both professional and personal guidance, and it’s hard to adjust to life without her being an email, text, or phone call away.

She would have wanted to know that I went to the first meeting of our union, United University Professionals (UUP). I was grateful for the opportunity to find out more about the UUP, but the feeling of disappointment in the room about the last contract was palpable. From an important question about family/maternity leave (or lack thereof) to a report on plans to organize for a future contract in order to prevent further givebacks, it quickly became clear that we need to build more local support from the rank and file.

IMG_5574Last week, I received a t-shirt from the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), a caucus of the United Federation Teachers (UFT), in the mail. It seemed like a timely, and necessary, reminder of the work that can be done when workers come together. Although everyone at New Paltz seems very happy to be here, the one thing they often — and openly — vocalize is that they’re not in it for the money. While I agree that education as a career path isn’t always lucrative, I was shocked to find out a year ago when I went on the academic job market that university professors in education make as little as they do.

Doctoral students who are wrapping up their dissertations now are curious, and understandably so, about what they’re facing in terms of salary. After doing some calculations, I realized I’m making less than I was as a 5th-grade teacher seven years ago (in comparison, other universities where I interviewed weren’t offering much more). While context matters to some extent, the facts are clear: the cost of living is going up steadily everywhere, and teachers at every level remain underpaid. When I did a little research online to see what professors in other departments make, I found that business professors at the same level — with the same education as me — make tens of thousands of dollars more. Put simply, that just doesn’t seem right.

When I was an active member of the UFT, I signed on to several caucuses at various points that were fighting to protect members’ rights. At the time, we were lucky if five or ten people showed up to meetings. At a MORE meeting I went to this summer — in July, mind you, when most teachers are taking a well-deserved break — there weren’t enough seats for everyone who showed up. I walked away feeling energized by the reminder that when enough voices come together, people really do start to listen.

It reminded me of the time, many years ago now, when Randi Weingarten (the then-UFT president) called on me in the Delegate Assembly to speak. I turned around to address the largest audience I’ve ever spoken in front of, and started out, “Hi. I’m a teacher, and I’m tired.” The room erupted in supportive applause and shouts, and I knew immediately that our resolution — of which I don’t recall the exact details now — would garner support from members. We’d been working without a contract for several years, and the rank and file was tired of being ignored.

I have a lot on my plate to balance the demands of my new job, and fully intend to do whatever I can to successfully juggle the expectations of teaching, scholarship, and service that come with my new position. However, as I await the arrival of my first paycheck, I can’t help but wonder about how we’ve gotten to a place where 1) we feel lucky if we have healthcare; 2) managing debt (as opposed to being able to pay it off) is the norm; 3) teaching, despite it being one of the most important jobs according to public discourse, continues to be such a low-paying profession; and 4) unions have somehow been painted as an obstacle instead of a vehicle. I worry about our future, America, but hold out hope that it’s not too late to fight for what we deserve.

Grad School and My Health

As we come up to the end of yet another school year, and I begin to think about transitioning to becoming a full-time professor, I can’t help but reflect on the last eight years of schooling, and how I’ve “mediated” my experience with my body. While I’ve encountered many highlights and benchmarks and celebrations, disappointments and frustrations and discouragements over the years — and everything in between — my mind begins to wander, without fail, to all of the ways in which I’ve carried the stress of schooling around in my body.

While I have been lucky enough to cover most of my schooling expenses over the last near-decade through fellowships, building websites, tutoring, taking on part-time teaching gigs when available, making and selling knitwear, and agreeing to odd jobs for cash whenever possible, my body feels like it’s been battered along the way. I wonder to what extent this has been due to having to work around the clock just in order to go to school. Let’s take a look back:

2005-2006: During my first year as a PhD student, I worked as a literacy coach in at an elementary school while going to school full time. I had chronic sinus infections all year, and had to have my tonsils taken out in April.

2006-2007: I decided to resign from my my job as a full-time teacher, in order to be able to accept a graduate teaching fellowship through CUNY — which would, theoretically, provide more time to devote to my studies. The fellowship, which paid me an annual salary of $13,000, required me to teach two college courses per semester. The pay was taxed, and though I was given tuition remission, I had to purchase my own healthcare. In order to make up for the cost, I took on a second job as a proofreader at a marketing firm, and a third job as a tutor.

2007-2009: I joined the fight for adjunct and student healthcare at the CUNY Graduate Center. I initially couldn’t understand why more people weren’t involved, and later realized that it’s probably because they’re too busy. I kept my teaching fellowship, as well as my tutoring and proofreading jobs, and begged my grandmother for extra cash.

2009-2011: I received a CUNY Writing Fellowship at a still-unacceptably-low-but-almost-liveable wage. The salary was about $30,000, and came (finally) with healthcare benefits. I continued to tutor, and took on a part-time literacy teaching job at an elementary school. I also initiated a knitwear company, and began making knitwear to sell.

2011-2012: I gratefully received an Instructional Technology Fellowship, which, like the Writing Fellowship, came with a salary of about $30,000 plus healthcare benefits. I continued to tutor and knit for additional money, and started building websites for pay as well.

2012-2013: I received a university sponsored Dissertation Fellowship of $22,000, with no healthcare benefits. I was forced to make the choice between 1) accepting this distinction, which would afford me the time I desperately needed to complete my dissertation, and 2) continuing on as an Instructional Technology Fellow for a second year, with a decent salary and benefits. I opted for the Dissertation Fellowship, and have paid $225 per month for the student healthcare cobra option. I continued to tutor, knit, and build websites for cash.

I am not totally complaining. Not completely. I am proud of the work I have done, and believe I received a stellar education at the CUNY Graduate Center. I also realize that many, many people face far more challenging, economically crushing circumstances. However, the fact remains that had I not worked three and four jobs for the majority of my time as a graduate student, I would, like many of my friends and colleagues, be facing an even larger mountain of crippling educational debt.

So then, what is the point of being a full-time student if you can’t actually go to school full time!? What are the actual expectations of being a full-time student these days? How does the rhetoric of doing something “full-time” match up with reality?

I started out this post thinking about all of my injuries and mysterious illnesses over the last eight years:  I have broken a bone, torn both meniscuses, suffered countless migraines, sprained my ankle at least twice, jammed my coccyx, had an extended bout with vestibular neuritis, contended with back spasms, and most recently was diagnosed with a labral tear in my hip. But as I started to write, it quickly became clear that the problem was larger than just my health — the problem all along has really been money.

It has been more than difficult as a student to make sure I’ve had enough at the end of each month to pay for rent, food, and healthcare coverage. And while I admit that there have been plenty of other factors at play, I can’t help but wonder at how the stress of having to work so many jobs just in order to go to school has prevented me from staying healthy while being a PhD student.

Occupy Wall Street / Power of Protest

I knew when I started this blog that it was going to be a challenge to keep up once the school year started–yikes, where does time go!?  It’s been a whirlwind of a week, and culminated in going to the Occupy Wall Street protest yesterday afternoon.  I have been to many protests, but few that were quite like this.  People were everywhere.  Some say it was because of the Radiohead rumor, but I can’t agree.  Things are bad.  People are angry.  Economic and political discontent is mounting, and along with thousands of other people, I’m ready to see something different happen.  I don’t want to argue anymore with people who think things could be worse.  Shouldn’t we try and aim a little higher?  Shouldn’t we be upset that poverty, homelessness, and joblessness are worse than they’ve ever been in our lifetime, rather than worry that things will get worse if we speak out?  Isn’t that just admitting that the wrong people control the policies that affect us?

People who know me well know I used to organize with the ISO (International Socialist Organization), and for a long while, would get up every Saturday morning and make signs for our hour-long paper sales during which we stood on street corners, talked to people about what was going on, and sold papers for a dollar.  I learned so much during this time about the history of the left, protest, labor rights, unions, the working class, etc., but I also struggled inwardly with putting the ideas into practice when we met opposition from other groups on the left.  I couldn’t understand why there was so much in-fighting between these relatively tiny groups, and why people in other groups would argue so vehemently about the intricacies of how a revolution would happen in the United States rather than focus on what is happening.  Wouldn’t the point be to decide what we want to have happen, together?  While my comrades in the ISO would listen to my questions and try and really understand where I was coming from, people in other groups would completely shut me down and shove their ideology down my throat with words I didn’t understand before I could even get my ideas together.  But yesterday, I didn’t experience this familiar divisiveness; we were all there for the same reason–change.

My point being: I’m grateful for the time I spent organizing, and everything that I learned, and my lip even quivered a little with nostalgia as I gathered up my foam core and markers to make myself a sign for the afternoon action.  I was flooded with memories of exhausting-but-invigorating days spent preparing for and traveling to protests that left me feeling like part of a community that stands on the right (er, left!) side of history.

I don’t know about you, but I was never taught about the history or power of protest as something I could participate in.  The history I learned felt episodic–like all of these events in the 60s and 70s were disconnected moments on a timeline that had nothing to do with each other.  I was shocked to learn as an adult that in fact, the history of labor organizing is long, involved, and anything but disconnected.  So many people I talk to think that real change is going to happen by electing someone through our current, fairly undemocratic, two-party system; however, when you look back, actual change that benefits ordinary, working-class people–even when legislated–happened as a result of a movement with people taking to the streets.  (For the record: I’m not saying don’t vote–you have every right to exercise that right if you choose!  And I was proud to vote for the first African-American president in 2008.  I’m just saying that thinking outside of the box might be increasingly necessary and voting for someone you’re not 100% behind because they’re the best option seems pretty counterintuitive to me.)

Lower Manhattan felt electric last night, and I’m suddenly as excited about getting back out there as I was during the 2004 RNC.  As we marched through the arch of City Hall, the goosebumps rose on my arms. Seeing a growing number of Facebook updates, tweets and blog posts of friends and colleagues who have joined the movement in the last few days makes me think those goosebumps aren’t going away anytime soon.  I can’t go back today, but will tomorrow.  Solidarity!

You can see the full album of photos I took here:

Occupy Wall Street March 9/30/11