For this election, the MSCF Elections Committee sent out a questionnaire with five questions. I’m pleased to share my responses to these questions throughout this week!
Question # 1. What should be done to keep our union strong? Please consider the most significant issues you feel we are facing, which might include items such as organizational restructuring, the Janus ruling, proposed “right-to-work” laws, other political efforts to weaken unions, and concerns regarding equity, diversity, and inclusion.
We need to rediscover our strength in each other. As this question makes clear, the challenges we face are numerous and severe. And this question mentions only the challenges labor unions face. As a union of educators in higher education, our labor, organizing, and diversity challenges are compounded by enrollment shifts, declines in public funding and the crises of affordability and student debt, a focus on cost reduction instead of investment, and a culture of disrespect toward the profession of education itself.
We face the same sort of staggering challenges that have led workers throughout history to join together, raise their voices as one, and overcome insurmountable odds. I believe, without a doubt, that our greatest achievements are yet to come. The answer to our challenges is clear: What keeps our union strong is being a strong union. It's not clearly recognizing the problems that is our barrier: We've forgotten how much we can do when we do it together.
Under my leadership, our top priority will be ensuring that all members have the knowledge and resources to make change happen alongside other MSCF members. We will build a new generation of MSCF members who understand our greatest strength happens when we stand together. We will never assume anyone knows what it means to be an MSCF member just because they signed a membership card. We will make sure our members have the resources and support they need to fight for the things that matter to us. We will build our power from within.
When we have rebuilt our union on a foundation of member involvement, everything we endeavor to do will be done better, from contract negotiations and enforcement to shaping the political and legislative environments we operate in.
Here’s how we will get there. First, we have to ensure that the enforcement of our contract—a core function that has the greatest presence in the daily lives of our members—does not diminish. I believe local grievance reps are the foundation of our faculty rights, and they should always have a place in our structure. However, I also believe we can do more in this area, and that it makes sense to augment our local grievance representatives with three full-time, state-level faculty rights representatives. Not only does this allow us as an organization to put our resources where they matter most, it also provides the space for our Education Minnesota field staff to dedicate more time to assisting us in training members, organizing at the local level, and supporting local chapter leadership.
Second, we will expand our role in the state office toward membership development. To make our union strong, our goal should be to not have to rely on one individual person being the leader who does everything for a local chapter. We should ask hard questions, such as: Is the summer leadership retreat still a model of leadership development that fits our needs? I have a vision of replacing that one-off training with ongoing, continuous leadership development opportunities at the local, regional, and state level. We will also endeavor to make better use of our connections with state and national labor affiliates to provide additional training opportunities for our members.
Finally, we will develop the infrastructure and protocols at the state level to increase our ability to coordinate our collective action. This means developing more robust means of member-to-member communication across the state, facilitating the sharing of critical information between and among local chapters, and having common methods of internal organizing throughout the state that will allow us to provide local leadership with the information and data they need to build strong local chapters. We will also act with determination to ensure there are no barriers to involvement and participation by creating and implementing a comprehensive action plan around diversity, equity, and inclusion.
This is an ambitious plan, but one that I believe best positions us to respond to the numerous and severe challenges we face. Building a union based on membership involvement means building a union that is—by default—focused on the needs of our membership.
And, despite the ambition of this plan, it is also one that is fiscally responsible. Following the Janus decision, a dues increase is necessary unless we want to simply surrender to the challenges we face. But we also need to make hard decisions. To simply preserve our existing structure as it is and to plan for additional legal attacks, we would have to raise our dues by an unsustainable amount. By making more effective use of the resources we already have, I believe the direction I am arguing for allows us to do more while lessening the need for an unacceptably large increases in dues. While we will still have to reinvest in MSCF, the greater challenge this requires is the courage to change how we do what we do as a labor union.
I believe MSCF has that courage, and I am ready to lead MSCF through these changes.