From Mary Lucille Hays—Senior Lecturer, English.
I can’t really blame folks who wonder if union dues are worth it if they haven’t seen first-hand what the union can do for us. My union dues run about $50 a pay check, or $600 and some change every year. I suppose I could buy a pretty sweet bicycle with that money, but I have some perspective on what the union does for me, having been involved since the advent of the Non-Tenure Track Faculty Coalition (NTFC). In fact, this summer, as I was in my office completing my biannual ritual of cleaning, organizing, and ridding out drawers for the Fall semester, I found my offer letter from 2006.
The first thing I noticed was my salary, which was less than 1/3 of my annual pay today. I was shocked. I remember not being paid much, but was it really so little? Then I realized that my offer letter was just for the Spring semester, not for a whole year. Back in the bad old days, we would find out at the very end of classes, sometimes not until we were figuring final grades, whether we had a job for the following semester.
Most of the time, I did have a job, but one May I got the news that I would not be staffed in the Fall. They then called me a few days before the semester to offer me classes, but that was not until after I spent the entire summer looking for work. And even when they did give me notice, I remember the stress of trying to teach my students while juggling the anxiety of not knowing whether I’d be here next semester. Of course, my students come first, so I did my best to serve them, but teaching felt like it was running parallel to my pressing worries about employment. My attention was divided. Should I grade papers or write another cover letter? Should I do class prep or scour the job listings? And even if I did get to teach the next semester, could I make ends meet? Should I moonlight as a waitress or a bartender? Meeting with students, I’m sure that sometimes they could tell that my mind was elsewhere.
With NTFC, we get, at minimum, year-long contracts. If we work here full-time for five consecutive years, our contract gives us a year’s notice before we can be let go. And now, correcting for an annual, rather than a semester salary, I still make almost twice what I made then. I feel more relaxed, with teaching as my main focus. I’m sure I’m more centered in the classroom and have really come to love my chosen career. To put it in trade union terms–it’s easier to provide good services when you don’t have the stress and worry of sub-par wages and unfair labor practices.
All of this to say that I’m proud to support my union by paying union dues. And as for that new bike? I think I’ll just save up with the higher wages I get now thanks to the NTFC.
Photo Credit: California Teachers Association