Community college faculty threaten strike in Philly

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Faculty and staff at Community College of Philadelphia are on the verge of a strike, stirred to dramatic action first by a crushing workload and overcrowded classes, and now by union-busting behavior from administrators.

Community College of Philly faculty

Members of the Faculty and Staff Federation of Community College of Philadelphia, which represents 1,200 workers, have been in stalled negotiations for three years. One of the primary sticking points is their fight against an increased course load for new faculty, which would prevent them from giving their students the time they need to excel. Faculty also want a voice in educational decisions, so that educators—and not administrators alone—are making institutional decisions that serve the students they know better than anyone. And they want a living wage for staff, who earn so little that many must work multiple jobs to make ends meet.

CCP faculty have one of the heaviest workloads in the state, teaching far more students than faculty at any other community college in their area. They teach 20 to 56 more students per semester than their colleagues at Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County and Bucks County community colleges, making their five-class course load more like a six-class load at their sister campuses. This leaves no time for the sort of out-of-class interaction that enriches students’ experience.

“Teaching is not only about teaching,” FSFCCP writes in campaign materials, listing the many responsibilities of CCP professors: grading, attending meetings and trainings, replying to emails, mentoring, writing letters of recommendation, and connecting students to internship opportunities and job possibilities. In Philadelphia, the poorest large city in the country, students are frequently challenged by poverty and lack of earlier educational opportunity, and professors help talk them through it all.

“Our faculty are incredibly dedicated to our students,” says FSFPCC co-president of Junior Brainard. “Striking is such a last resort for us. What’s at stake feels so important to us and also so directly tied to the student experience here … that’s the only reason faculty are willing to consider a strike.”

And then there’s the union-busting. “We really believe this contract fight is not primarily about money,” says Brainard. “This is about power. Our current administration would like to run a college in which there just isn’t a union.” Administrators have tried removing faculty from educational decisions and pushed for subcontracting their work, says Brainard, “in ways that would be damaging to our college and our students.”

Community leaders agree: Elected officials at the city and state levels have joined students, alumni, clergy and other community members to push for a fair contract for FSFCCP. Students have a big stake in the fight. “CCP is great,” says student government President Mike Luna, “because of the wonderful staff who assist me on a daily basis and the faculty who give me support to get through the daily struggles of what it takes to be a successful college student in America today. Less teachers and more students equals less interaction for teachers to assist students.”

CCP has been a crucial steppingstone to gainful employment and financial security for many Philadelphia students like Luna. “Community college is the workhorse of opportunity all across the country,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten, who joined FSFCCP and other community leaders at a rally last week. “Educators have so many stories of students who come through CCP and who get transformed because of that experience.

“You come to work every day to actually help create opportunities,” she told faculty and staff at the rally. “You have a right to earn a living wage for that. You have a right to the resources that are needed at CCP. Your workload is high enough. What needs to be higher are your wages, not your workload.”

[Virginia Myers]