Strikers chanted “Huelga,” meaning strike.

First CFA strike promotes solidarity between faculty and students

By Victoria Mejicanos and Tessa Dufore, Dec. 4, 2023

“I live paycheck to paycheck,” said Cal Poly Pomona assistant professor of history Rachael Hill. “I’m one paycheck away from being houseless.”

Struggling to make ends meet is not a unique story on California State University campuses. Many CSU professors made such stories loud and clear by participating in the first of the California Faculty Association’s rolling strikes Monday Dec. 4 across the Cal Poly Pomona campus. CFA members have also been protesting stagnating wages, heavy workloads and worsening working conditions, and will continue at San Francisco State University  Dec. 5, California State University Los Angeles Dec 6 and  concluding at Sacramento State this Thursday.

“You go on and you get a Ph.D. and come back to the (CSU) community that raised you, so to speak, and you can’t afford just to have groceries in your fridge and pay rent where you work,” Hill said, speaking of her own experience earning a Ph.D. at Stanford as a first-generation student.

CPP psychology lecturer Rhonda Rodgers echoed similar sentiments and stated that it is important to appeal to what she called “common sense.”

“We all live in Southern California… and the wages have not kept up, so people are going without and that’s not okay,” Rodgers said.

Faculty members are bargaining for a 12% General Salary Increase and for issues that affect students, such as improving the student-to-counselor ratio, gender-neutral bathrooms and lactation spaces for all parents on campus.

According to Paivi Hoikkala, a CPP history lecturer of 26 years, a 12% GSI would keep faculty “just above inflation” and described the CSU’s offer of 5% as “insulting.” According to Hoikkala, the CSU often tells faculty that the reason salary increases have never surpassed 10% is because pay depends on state funding remaining steady.

“I don’t think they respect our work and our labor, and I don’t think they respect students because they’re expecting students to learn in these conditions, and I think it’s insulting,” Rodgers said.

CFA and Teamsters union members across several CSUs alongside students from CPP and beyond blocked main entrances to campus. According to CFA members, classrooms and buildings that receive high student traffic, such as the University Library, remained empty.

Assistant professor of English and modern languages Kate Ozment, believe that faculty working conditions are student learning conditions. She said that just like faculty, students sacrifice time and money to the university, and the least the university can offer for “life-altering debt” is better working conditions for faculty.

“My students are on the picket line, and that’s the reason that I am here,” Ozment said. “If I felt like they were not with me, I would not have come out here today.”

CPP biology student and strike-attendee Damien Ramos explained that students can recognize when faculty are undercompensated.

“We see that a lot of the classes have way too many students, and you could tell that they’re not getting paid enough for what they’re doing,” Ramos said. “And you can tell how much more work that they’re doing. Our professor, the reason that we’re out here — he’s in his office constantly. Always, you know, trying to get back to students the best that he can, but there’s only so much that you can do. So, we need support for them too.”

Prior to the strike, an independent fact-finder reported  several recommendations to both CSU Management and the CFA to “help the parties along.” The CSU responded that it is willing to address all the fact-finder’s recommendations except those pertaining to salary and course caps. The report recommended a 7% General Salary Increase, or GSI for faculty.

Responses from the CSU administrators, have been “chilling,” said Jennifer Eagan, a professor of philosophy and public affairs & administration at California State University East Bay.

CFA filed a First Amendment lawsuit against CSUEB and California State University Fullerton, schools which sent emails forbidding faculty from talking about the strike in their classrooms. The CFA hopes the lawsuit results in an injunction to keep administration from “continuing to restrain members’ academic freedom,” according to a CFA email.

No other schools sent prohibitory emails, which Eagan remarked was “a little telling.” Eagan was one of three CFA members who are plaintiffs — in addition to the CFA union itself — in the lawsuit.

Other CSUs have also taken action upsetting to striking faculty.

Cal Poly Pomona’s C.L.A.S.S. Council sent a mass email to students, notifying them that the council supported the CFA’s decision to strike, a letter which was initially blocked by CPP administrators Thursday. Before students received the letter the next day, C.L.A.S.S Council president Tony Truong posted the letter on social media. According to  Ashley Orellana, the C.L.A.S.S. Council internal and external affairs director, this was the first time C.L.A.S.S. Dean Camille Johnson “intervened” in the council’s mass messages to students.

In an email, to The Poly Post explaining why the message was rejected, C.L.A.S.S. Dean Camille Johnson wrote that the message was rejected because “it was not aligned with the typical use” of email communication from the C.LA.S.S. Council.

In addition to voicing support for the strike, C.L.A.S.S. council members wrote in the letter: “ … the university is urging students to identify faculty members participating in strike activities, which in effect would result in pay deductions for the day. Such a policy could have far-reaching implications, especially for professors and lecturers who are in the process of seeking full-time faculty status or tenure.”

The letter was responding to the Nov. 11 email from Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Christina Gonzales, an email the council described as “deeply disturbing.”

“We’ve seen the most vicious language come out of (Cal Poly) Pomona,” said Billy Gallagher, CPP’s CFA senior field representative.

Despite attempts across the CSU to moderate the messaging of students and faculty alike, those attending the strike stayed hopeful about the effects of the rolling strikes and expressed appreciation for solidarity on campus.

“Hope is stronger than fear,” Gallagher said. “We will win.”

Feature image courtesy of Tessa Dufore 

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