Bargaining for the Common Good in Higher Education

CFA joined over 75 faculty and higher education staff from unions around the country to strategize, share best practices, and learn together about building Bargaining for the Common Good campaigns in higher education. The convening in Washington DC was part-conference and part-training, with opportunities for participants to expand their understanding about Bargaining for the Common Good (BCG) while discussing strategies for tackling dilemmas, challenges, and opposition.

BCG refers to the efforts of unions, community groups, racial justice organizations and student organizations to work together as equal partners to win bigger and broader demands at the bargaining table and in the streets. Approaches like this are consistent with CFA’s racial and social justice principles and the union’s commitment to incorporating them into all aspects of our work, including bargaining. 

The recent strike and contract win by the Chicago Teachers Union is the latest example of a BCG approach to negotiations; closer to home, the UTLA (United Teachers Los Angeles) and OEA (Oakland Education Association) contract campaigns and strikes were high-profile examples of bargaining for the common good here in California. The successful Rutgers AAUP-AFT contract campaign, which settled earlier this year, is another example of BCG in practice.

At the training, participants reviewed the seven core principles of BCG and discussed the unique challenges and opportunities that each present.

  1. Expand the scope of bargaining beyond wages and benefits. Identify issues that resonate and impact our communities and put forth demands that address structural issues, not just symptoms of the problem.
  2. Go on offense in your campaign by identifying, exposing and challenging the real villains, often financial and corporate actors who profit from and increasingly drive policies and actions.
  3. Engage community allies as partners in issue development and the bargaining campaign. Bring in community partners early on and find out what they need out of the bargaining campaign.
  4. Center racial justice in your demands. Campaign demands should address the role that employers play in creating and exacerbating structural racism in our communities.
  5. Strengthen internal organizing, membership and member engagement. This includes deep engagement of the memberships of both unions and community organizations and involves joint-visioning between the different organizations.
  6. Leverage capital in our campaigns. Develop strategies that leverage the financial power of workers’ pension funds and endowments in order to win common good demands.
  7. The campaign doesn’t end once the union settles its contract. Bargaining for the common good is about building long-term community-labor power, not about giving unions some good publicity during a contract fight.

Over the past year, CFA leaders have had the chance to hear directly from union leaders with experience in BCG campaigns, when bargaining team members from UTLA, OEA, and Rutgers addressed recent CFA Assembly and Leadership Kickoff meetings. This conference was a special opportunity to hear about what has worked and not worked, from many more organizations in all stages of negotiations – from units that are still fighting for recognition, to locals from “right to work” states; from unions celebrating recent wins to others that are on strike.

Chris Cox, CFA Associate Vice President for Racial and Social Justice, attended and reflected, “In the 2015-16 contract campaign, we incorporated some of these principles in our bargaining but it was inspiring to hear about how some other unions have built much more comprehensive BCG campaigns. Our approach in CFA of making public higher education more just is consistent with a common good strategy and it is exciting to think about how collective bargaining can be another tool for achieving this.”