CFA leaders’ statements to CSU Board of Trustees

On Wednesday, November 12, CFA President Lillian Taiz and CFA Bargaining Team Chair Andy Merrifield addressed the CSU Board of Trustees about ratification of the faculty contract. 

The following are their comments. 

Lillian Taiz, President of CFA (Cal State LA):

As many of you already know, bargaining between CSU management and CFA has for many years been lengthy and extremely contentious. I am pleased to say that this time there were some noticeable improvements to the process.

Not only were negotiations completed in record time, but for the first time in anyone’s memory, management’s proposals did not target segments of our bargaining unit or attempt to short-circuit longstanding, tried-and-true programs.  Indeed, it appeared to us that this administration was making an honest attempt to change its tone and approach.

At the bargaining table and publicly, we observed that the administration seemed to be doing some real listening to what our faculty were telling us was essential. 

We also appreciate that there was a new openness to solving some problems, like the low pay for Lecturer L that should have been corrected long ago and that was, frankly, an institutional embarrassment.

Finally, after years of discussion we welcome the administration’s recognition of the need to address some out-of-control problems like workload.

But, I would be seriously misleading you to leave you with the impression that all is well or that all faculty feel we did a great job solving problems. 

In fact, ratification was not a cakewalk. While 91% of those voting supported the agreement, it is clear from campus, electronic, and face-to-face discussions that the vast majority of faculty are terribly demoralized and distressingly cynical about the system’s commitment to addressing their struggles paying rent, feeding their families, and educating their kids on CSU faculty salaries.

What happens in the coming months on implementing campus equity and reopener bargaining on salaries in years 2 and 3 will be critical in either reversing or cementing those sentiments. 

That campus equity programs happen obviously is important to whether faculty feel they have been dealt with fairly. So is the implementation of these programs—they must be true “equity” programs that faculty see as even-handed and equitably applied.

The way in which other provisions are implemented will matter as well.

For example, faculty will be watching what campus presidents do with promotions: Do they use the tools—and the discretion—the contract provides them to correct problems when they arise? Or do they turn a blind eye and do the minimum that the contract requires? 

I say none of this as a threat but simply as a fact every CFA leader knows and hears about daily.

In many ways, this agreement is not the end of a process but merely the beginning. My hope is that we can look back next year and see the agreement we are ratifying today as the first concrete move toward restoring faculty morale and rebuilding the salary and working conditions that must exist in the kind of CSU we all hope for.

I can assure you statewide CFA and our local chapters are committed to doing what it takes to move in that direction. We hope the system administration, the campus presidents, and the Board of Trustees will join us on that path.”

Andy Merrifield, chair of CFA’s Bargaining Team (Sonoma State):

CFA has ratified the contract and we hope and expect that the CSU Trustees will ratify the collective bargaining agreement today. The contract was ratified by CFA members overwhelmingly, about 9 to 1, with a large turnout. So, there is great support for what we have accomplished but, at the same time, a certain level of caution is needed.

This was accomplished partially because we have reopeners on salary. Fixing a dysfunctional salary system, looking at the poor priorities of the last year and at underfunding, is a work in progress. We’re not finished yet and there are still some tests to be passed.

We see this as a road forward for better labor relations. Hopefully, it will be easier in bargaining in years two and three than it was this time.

And, it should be noted we bargained a contract in a little over 10 months, which in the real world may seem like a long time, but it’s hyper-quick between CFA and the CSU in the last 30 years.

I want to mention a couple of ‘Whats’ and ‘Whys’ to explain why we got a contract and why we got the contract as quickly as we did.

Among the ‘Whats,’ among the things beyond the salary, there are other accomplishments.

There was recognition of the central focus of faculty and students working together, which is the absolute vital part of quality education; recognition that no faddish gimmick or trick or even the proper use of technology can ever substitute for the importance that is the relationship between the students and the faculty.  

There was recognition that excessive service, underfunded scholarship, excessive student contact, along with quality education, are things in the agreement that begin to address the problems.

In addition, there are indirect things that will help with student-faculty relationships. There was progress in the areas of intellectual property, parental leave, sabbaticals, and greening of the institution in this contract.

All of these things help and this is a partial list. So those are some of the ‘Whats.’

There are also a couple of examples of the ‘Why’ we got this done more quickly.

First, there was an explicit recognition at the table that those who are primarily hired to be teaching faculty are an asset to the California State University, not a cost liability. This meant fixing unfair hiring practices. This meant we didn’t have to fight over issues that we have successfully settled over the years, as we have in past contracts.

And a final example of why is (our talks) avoided what too many politicians at all levels of government have embraced—the thinking of that great political philosopher Trisha Nixon to never underestimate the politics of fear. We hear about the existential threats to America, including real problems in Africa and Asia like Ebola and ISIS and why they’re threats to the United States. We hear of a benefit that is made into a great terrorist threat of our time—these benefits for public employees, which have become fashionable to attack. The CSU management did not go in for this and worked to keep professional people in the CSU.

So if you look at these, it’s promising.

As we continue to improve the relationship—and we are continuing to work on improvement— we hope that if this continues, there will be better relationships between the California State University management and CFA. And possibly, negotiations will be smoother when they start up in the spring.”