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Mark James Miller

“If I went to work in a factory, the first thing I’d do is join a union.” — President Franklin D. Roosevelt

When representatives from the Part-Time Faculty Association and the Allan Hancock Community College District sit down to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement in January, it will be historic — the first contract negotiations between the two sides since the infamous Janus decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018.

If the intent of the plaintiffs in that ill-advised court case was to ruin public employee unions, they have failed, both nationally and locally. Polls show more people see unions in a positive light than in decades. Relations between the PFA and the Community College District have never been better in the 20-plus years the association has been in existence.

At the board of trustees meeting on Nov. 12 both sides presented their proposals, a legal requirement that will be followed by public comment at the December board meeting. This process makes it legal for bargaining to begin.

Once it was possible to talk about big business and big labor in the same breath, and while union power, even at its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, never truly rivaled that of corporate America, it did provide an important counter-balance to the influence of corporations in American life. The decline of unions over the past generation has exposed some ugly truths about unbridled corporate puissance.

This can be illustrated in many ways, but two especially salient examples are growing income inequality and skyrocketing CEO pay.

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Since 1978, the average workers’ pay has increased only 11 percent, adjusted for inflation. Not much progress in 41 years. But average CEO pay has gone up a whopping 937 percent. CEOs at Fortune 500 companies make around $10.3 million, according to Stanford University, whereas the average American worker is earning $58,000 annually.

“Today in America unions have a secure place in our industrial life … Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of the right to join a union.” — President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Rising income inequality is another factor that can be directly traced to the decline of unions. Such a concentration of wealth in the hands of a few has not been seen in nearly 100 years, not since the run-up to the Great Depression of 1929. Currently, the top 1 percent reaps 22 percent of the national income, compared to only 9 percent in 1973, when unions were still comparatively strong. The wealthiest 1 percent of American families hold 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, while the bottom 90 percent have less than 25 percent.

“We can have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” — Justice Louis Brandeis

In its relatively short life the Part-Time Faculty Association has made some amazing improvements for the people it represents: A 76-percent increase in pay, paid office hours, job security, a grievance procedure, free parking and participation in the college’s shared governing process. In 2011 we were able to get $62,000 in retro pay distributed to the instructors in the public-safety sector. In 2013 we negotiated five additional columns on the salary schedule for our non-credit instructors, and we were responsible for a 2.13-percent across-the-board increase for our members in the current semester.

Next year’s bargaining will mark the start of a new era of greater cooperation and the realization that the two sides have more in common than they have differences, and are determined to come up with an agreement that will be of value to both sides.

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Mark James Miller is an associate English instructor at Allan Hancock College, and president of the Part-Time Faculty Association. He can be reached at mark@pfaofahc.com.

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