University of Hawaii faculty join the AFT family

The University of Hawaii Professional Assembly board of directors voted unanimously Dec. 9 to affiliate with the AFT, and the union expects to officially welcome UHPA’s 3,000 members to the AFT family in early 2024. UHPA’s new affiliation with the AFT—the largest higher education union in the country, representing 70 percent of all unionized faculty—will give its members more power as they face increasing threats to academic independence and campus democracy.

UHPA Executive Director Christian Fern and AFT President Randi Weingarten.
UHPA Executive Director Christian Fern and AFT President Randi Weingarten.

“The UHPA board strongly believes it is a critical time to affiliate with the AFT to benefit our members,” says David Duffy, UHPA board of directors president.

“Academic freedom and the rights of faculty are increasingly under siege across the nation,” he says. “Politics interfere with university decisions, and faculty are in the crosshairs.” Duffy adds that “ongoing, meddlesome legislation” is undermining the University of Hawaii’s autonomy and threatening individual faculty and programs.

“Today’s affiliation is proof positive that while higher education in Hawaii and in states across the country is under attack, faculty are determined to fight back—and to fight forward for the resources, support and voice that they, their students and their institutions need to succeed,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten, who traveled to Hawaii to meet with UHPA. “Higher education is a gateway to opportunity. For that opportunity to be real, academic freedom and campus democracy must be protected, not obstructed. To fight the attacks, we all need new partners. We are indeed stronger together, and the AFT will have UHPA’s back as we work together to ensure that members across all University of Hawaii campuses are treated with the dignity and respect they demand and deserve.”

The AFT has committed its state legislative initiatives department—which works closely with local unions to craft political and legislative campaigns to resist attacks on faculty, union members, tenure, academic freedom and consistent institutional funding—to work with UHPA. In other states, recent campaigns have included fighting back against anti-higher education; anti-tenure; and anti-diversity, equity and inclusion bills in Florida, Ohio and Texas, and they have defended against attacks on college and university systems in Connecticut and New Jersey.

“UHPA has demonstrated that we’ve been able to serve our members well over the past decade as an independent union, but now we are upping our game,” says Christian Fern, UHPA executive director. “Our affiliation with the AFT provides us with the resources, knowledge and experience of a respected national union that specializes in serving faculty in higher education. The AFT’s affiliation with the American Association of University Professors gives us access to the best of both worlds: AAUP’s academic and curricular resources and the AFT’s organizing and bargaining expertise. All the while, UHPA will maintain full autonomy, as preserving the autonomy of local affiliates is one of the AFT’s core values.”

The AFT executive council will officially vote to accept the 3,000-member UHPA as an affiliate in December, with an effective date sometime in early 2024.

[AFT communications staff]