05/24/2016

Green River conflict escalates from walkout to strike

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With more and more programs on the chopping block and union leaders losing their jobs, the Green River United Faculty Coalition in Auburn, Wash., called a three-day strike May 23.

Green River College faculty have three times passed a vote of no confidence in college president Eileen Ely, who has been targeting popular—but less profitable—programs for elimination. As the laundry list of cancellations grows longer, more and more people are being affected, most of them local students who rely on the practical education offered at the community college.

Rally at Green River CollegeThe auto body repair program was among the first to disappear, last year—along with the job of former union president Mark Millbauer, who ran it. The Geographic Information Systems program, focusing on a widely used database management system, was also canceled. This year, early childhood education, history, geography, earth sciences, tutoring centers and student counseling are on the chopping block. A recent announcement listed more cancellations, including evening courses in technology, design drafting, parent education, the Montessori track for early childhood education, German, French and occupational therapy.

Students and other unions have joined United Faculty on the picket lines in solidarity. Activists say the cuts are retaliatory and threatening, and qualify as an unfair labor practice. "The administration chooses to eliminate opposition rather than to work through differences of opinion," union leaders wrote in an informational flier. "That's no way to run a college."

They also see through Ely's claim that tight finances require the cuts: Money is being spent on building renovations and other priorities. "There is no budget crisis," leaders say. "There is a leadership and management crisis. The college is spending wildly while cutting vital programs."

The situation is so unfair, unionists say, they decided to take the bold step and strike. Several of them share the experience on AFT Higher Education's Voices on Campus blog.

AFT President Randi Weingarten stands in solidarity with the strikers. “Green River College has trumped up a manufactured budget crisis as an excuse to cut 11 academic programs,” she says. “The college wants to cut popular programs so it can move ahead with its pet projects, like constructing and renovating buildings. Green River College leaders are ignoring students, faculty and political and community allies, who agree that there is no budget crisis and no need to eliminate programs that students want and to lay off faculty. The cuts will devastate the academic integrity of Green River College and the community it serves.”

Read Weingarten's full statement.

For more information and updates, go to www.unitedattheriver.com or follow @unitedatriver on Twitter.

[Virginia Myers, AFT release]