The NEA is the largest education union in the country, with almost 3 million members, the vast majority in K-12. On one hand, NEA is big and powerful; on the other, higher ed is a tiny minority trying to be heard amid all the noise, and contingent faculty are a weak minority within that minority. Our challenge is that we must constantly educate our K-12 colleagues about our issues; they have no idea what our working conditions are or that we constitute a significant majority of higher ed's teaching workforce.
This is NOT the universe in which most readers of this list operate, where there is often a sense of oppression and powerlessness in relation to those in tenure lines. Moving our issues isn't a question of convincing tenured faculty. It's a question of convincing 4th-grade teachers and custodians and school counselors. There is no monolithic will operating here; what happens at the RA happens because thousands of people, not a handful of people, have been moved. I really believe that those thousands of people do not have cynical agendas. Most of them go because they love democracy, and most vote on the basis of what they think is right.
I know that the experiences of many people on this list have led them quite understandably to a certain jadedness, but if you were to have lunch with some of the attendees of the pre-RA Joint Conference on Women and Minorities, for instance, and talk to some of the many people attending who are not like us, I believe you too would feel the hope that I feel as I write to you today.
What people do at the RA is vote. They vote on several kinds of things, including Resolutions (statements of principle or belief), Legislation, and New Business Items (NBIs). NBIs are specific, concrete actions the NEA is being asked to take within a finite amount of time.
But we didn't get a chance to vote. In that situation, the leaders of the delegation decide whether to support—and the California leaders chose a "Support" position, which meant we didn't get their machine and the 3 minutes, but we did get a recommendation that Californians—more than a tenth of the whole, remember—vote for it. And I'd planned to speak for 2 minutes anyway.
Among those who agreed to speak in favor of our NBI were Ron Norton Reel, President of the California Community College Association and a tenured professor at Mt. San Antonio College; Len Paolillo of Massachusetts, former NEA Executive Board member; Katherine Leisek of Florida, NEA Director At-Large; and Roger Davis of Nebraska, formerly of the Committee on Membership. Beverly, Frank and Loretta also stood at the mic's ready to speak. We lined up mic-yielders—people who agree if called on to yield the mic to a designated speaker. Altogether, we had supporters ready to speak at at least 30 mic's, out of about 40 or so total.
"Imagine that more than two-thirds of you could be dismissed without due process. "Imagine that your classes could still be canceled even after they've met."(That might not be exactly what he said; I was in a fugue state at the time, but it was something like that.)
NEA will collaborate with the NEA Contingent Faculty Caucus to request that the Department of Labor (DOL) issue an Employment and Training Administration Advisory, specifically an Unemployment Insurance Program Letter (UIPL), clarifying that contingent faculty members of colleges and universities lack "Reasonable Assurance" of employment as it is discussed in Section 3304(a)(6)(A) of the Federal Unemployment Tax Act. Recommended language will be provided by the Contingent Faculty Caucus for NEA to ask the Department of Labor to use in the Unemployment Insurance Program Letter.