It’s May Day, International Worker’s Day, Labour Day in many places in the world, a time to celebrate workers and the labor movement. I think a lot about labor these days — our new faculty union was certified last summer, and since November I’ve been part of the bargaining team as we negotiate our first contract.
Let me tell you: bargaining a contract is hard work. It is likely going to take us close to a year, or even more. There are tense moments at the table, but also looooong caucuses, and so many meetings to read, review, write, rewrite. There’s a lot of waiting around, and the need to communicate clearly with members about what is taking so damn long. In a workplace where most people haven’t been in a union before, we’re bargaining as we build the union, build the culture of the union. It’s a lot, and it is exciting.
Our bargaining staff often talk about how the ideal situation for bargaining is, you have a chance to collectively help solve the problems of your workplace. As a team, but also reaching across the table. (Um, ideally.) We are starting from the thousands of conversations folks had with faculty over the course of the last few years of organizing, from the listening sessions and surveys we’ve shared. It feels good to build from what we know, as a collective, about the problems — and the possibilities for solutions. (And reading through other locals’ collective bargaining agreements, finding good language to borrow and adapt — lots of sharing, lots of building upon.)
Our team includes folks from different areas of campus, different ranks and categories of faculty within the bargaining unit. I have learned a tonne about my place of work, and about the types of work that happen on campus, and the issues people face in their work. They are a group of incredibly thoughtful, good-humored, creative and engaged people, and I am so glad to work and learn alongside them. It is hard to capture the power of sitting together, reading a draft article proposal for the third time, and someone raising a question we hadn’t considered before. It is a joy to know who will be annoyed at the weird commas, who will think of the one exception, who will help us rally to keep the energy up. I’ve edited with other people before, but doing it as a group, literally reading the text out loud together and discussing it, working through it? Truly a joy. Debriefing with observers after a bargaining session? A joy. Caucusing to talk through options for strategy? A joy. I just started reading Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown, and this passage where she considers her work as a facilitator resonated for me:
Is it a pleasure to be with each other? Does the agenda or space allow for aliveness, connection, and joy? Is there a “yes!” at the center of the work? There are so many things that are violent, offensive, unbearable. An embodied “no” is so justified—but I don’t believe it moves us forward. (23-4)
We’re still relatively early in this process, and I know there are many difficulties yet to come, on top of the frustrations we’ve already experienced. (If you want to hear about the frustrations, let’s get a beer sometime and talk, ha.) But the “yes!” at the center of this work, dang, it’s a big one, and it will move us forward. Today and every day, I am thankful to all my UAOSU colleagues and all my other labor movement cousins, and alllllllll the people who do the work that lets me move through my day with such ease and so much joy.
You can read all our bargaining updates here, if that is your jam.