Faculty union continues fight for COVID-19 relief 

By Alexander Osornio, Feb. 23, 2021

The California Faculty Association demanded the California State University system adopt the CFA proposal for a COVID-19 relief plan in a virtual town hall hosted on Feb. 18.

The CFA proposal includes paid administrative leave and workload reduction for CSU faculty and staff. CFA leadership stated that in a meeting with the CSU Labor Relations team, the CSU refused the CFA’s proposal in favor of extending its own plan that would offer sick leave to faculty with administrative approval.

CFA President Charles Toombs described the CSU plan as “heartless,” and unsatisfactory for CSU parents and caregivers.

These demands follow multiple CFA statements published over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Past CFA requests include ensuring campus health and safety and addressing systemic racism faced by faculty and students.

Margarita Berta-Avila, CFA associate vice president north, made a call to action for CFA members to continue to mobilize.

“This is the time to build our strength and foundation, not only for this movement, but for what we are trying to push at the bargaining table,” Berta-Avila said.

Audrena Redmond, CFA program director for anti-racism and social justice, affirmed that the current CSU plan would not be enough to be able to provide relief for all CSU faculty.

“Any relief program must be flexible enough to address various needs and that program should not force faculty to have to take unpaid time off or leave the workforce entirely,” Redmond said.

During the town hall, panelists of CSU faculty who are also parents and caregivers shared their experiences and hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Panelist Larissa Mercado-López, an associate professor in the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department at Fresno State, described the difficulty of assisting her four children in their academics while working with limited space and resources. She remarked that the added workload of having to manage all professional, academic and personal obligations added to this difficulty.

“I’m down to a 16 to 18-hour day, and I still have to factor in sleep into all of that,” Mercado-Lopez said.

Mercado-Lopez described working with her department chair in order to craft an argument to administrators as to why she is unable to maintain the same amount of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was necessary in order to obtain course releases and paid leave under the Family First Coronavirus Response Act.

The FFCRA, signed into law into law on March 18, 2020, provided sick leave provisions for most public employers, including the CSU, for issues related to COVID-19. These provisions expired December 2020.

“For me, it was a struggle to accept the course releases knowing that some of my colleagues didn’t qualify for them,” she said.

Analena Hope Hassberg, an assistant professor in Ethnic and Women’s Studies at Cal Poly Pomona, shared her struggles balancing her responsibilities from home as a professor, parent and co-teacher.

“I am spread so thin; I can’t fully support my child or my students,” Hassberg said.

Hassberg also applied for FFCRA relief but had difficulty finding the right information and contacting those that were able to help her.

“By the time it was effective, it was already into the beginning of the semester,” Hassberg said.

Hassberg described having to create a learning plan for her young daughter when her school closed, and she went several months without guidance from her school.

Similarly, Sabrina Alimohamed, a sociology professor from CSU Long Beach, recounted caring for her two children while working as a professor.

“How many of us have had that conversation where we’re trying to support our students while we are not able to be there for ourselves or our families,” Alimohamed said.

Redmond further encouraged CFA members to take direct action by writing to CSU Chancellor Joseph Castro and urging other faculty to organize and engage with their local CFA chapters.

To view a full recording of the virtual town hall, visit https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=457171558654637&ref=watch_permalink.

Feature image courtesy of CFA.

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