Office of Inclusive Excellence

The Role of Our Labor Unions in Advancing a More Equitable and Just CSU

October 19, 2021

By Meghan O’Donnell, Lecturer of Social and Political History and CFA Statewide Associate Vice President for Lecturers

By George Station, Lecturer, First Year Seminar and CFA Statewide Council for Racial and Social Justice Member

How is the traditional advocacy of labor unions evolving to include a role in the fight for racial and social justice? While historically considered beyond the scope of union work, these issues remain embedded in union culture, with historically underrepresented groups having been marginalized by the very unions they seek to protect. The California Faculty Association (CFA) is made up of activists who are committed to doing the hard work of protecting the rights of our nearly 29,000 instructional faculty, counselors, coaches and librarians in the 23 campuses of the CSU. In pursuit of a fair and just bargaining agreement, we have learned that equity in all its senses is a core “bread-and-butter” matter. Not recognizing and living this can take a union off mission, and fail to serve all its members.

 Although COVID-19 quickly became a leading issue that demanded our attention and advocacy (and still does), we believe racial and social justice issues are equally as important and are themselves deeply interwoven with this pandemic and its impacts. In considering the question “What changes are necessary to advance racial and social justice in the US?” we chose to focus on the fabric of U.S. society, the American worker, and our Unit 3 colleagues in particular. What we found is that women and Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) are facing worse outcomes than their white male counterparts. This fuels our resolve in ensuring we all have access to quality healthcare, mental health services, child care services, reliable Internet, and other societal supports that allow us to effectively serve our diverse and growing student body and the broader communities they come from. We believe that advancing towards a more just and equitable society demands improving academic environments—which requires both CFA and management to fully recognize the range of cultures and backgrounds our colleagues represent. Complex systems as well as the way in which they coalesce to create opportunity or yield oppression.

The work of the CFA is about collective action, organizing to drive social change. As a membership-driven body, we do a tremendous amount of work in fighting for our faculty to have safe working conditions within the context of a broader campus community that honors us. All of the issues we are advocating for can be found on our bargaining homepage, we thought we would share a few topics that are aligned with the need for more racial and social justice work within the CSU, and at CSUMB in particular.

 First, wage stagnation leaves many faculty behind as they try to balance their income with increasing expenses. For this and many other reasons (including we deserve it for our hard work, flexibility and commitment to teaching throughout the COVID-19 pandemic), we are asking for a 4% across-the-board earned salary increases for 2020-21, 2021-22, and 2022-23. (As of this writing, management’s position has stagnated at an unexplained 2%, the same untenable figure proposed and defeated in our previous bargaining cycle.) We are also demanding an Equity Pay Program open to ALL Unit 3 Faculty, Salary Step and Post Promotion Increases, automatic Range Elevation for Contingent Faculty upon receipt of a 3 yr. or subsequent appointment, Expanded Paid Parental Leave for a full academic term, and a review/correction of salary inequities based on race and gender. 

Second, if our goal is to become a more inclusive union, we need to ensure our efforts as well as the support of the CSU is omnipresent. In this regard, we need to set our intentions on adopting the principles of anti-racism, social justice, and equity. On our campus, our efforts are done through the Committee for Racial and Social Justice (CRSJ) which coordinates with the statewide Council. Our elected leadership team prides itself on our commitment and advocacy for racial and social justice. While management often says the right words on Websites in the wake of unrest, our membership deserves concrete attention, advocacy, and action.

Third, our lecturer faculty are key drivers in our success as a university system. Without them, we would not be able to serve the nearly 500,000 students the CSU serves each year. In our bargaining efforts, we are asking for five-year contracts, following satisfactory evaluation, to provide greater long-term stability and permanency in employment for our lecturers. Lecturer faculty are subjected to six precarious years of review prior to receiving a three-year contract. This is good, but it’s not enough. We are advocating for a five-year contract to immediately follow a successful three-year contract. This provides a level of commitment and permanency for otherwise truly contingent faculty. Our students deserve faculty who are honored for the commitment they show to them and our campus communities. 

This is just a small sampling of our advocacy for equity and justice during this bargaining cycle. Our hope is that our campus community will unite to fight, advocating not simply for themselves but for all faculty throughout the CSU. Our faculty deserve better. Our students deserve better. We are stronger together. 

In solidarity. 

George & Meghan