Showing posts with label labor activism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label labor activism. Show all posts

06 January, 2016

Don't get no respect: back to school, wobbly-style

 I'm heading back to campus today to line up the last bit of what I need to do in order to teach on Thursday. Between the usual decline in course offerings and my separation from the local alternative dining and concert guide*, this winter, like most every, will be a tight one. I'm always on the look for more work, and I'm going to be diving into some projects and working on my poetry and fiction. I'm uncharacteristically prepared for the semester to begin, actually... primarily because I'm simplifying my teaching methods and focusing on what's really important in a writing class.


People ask me all the time what I teach. When they're kind, or when they know I write poetry, they immediately ask if I teach creative writing**. I have to, for the sake of conversation, clarify that I teach academic writing***, tossing in some scholarly research methods and some interesting stories and little known history. I've been using Labor History the last few years as the subject matter for my Intermediate classes; I think it's important try and highlight little known facts of history that get overlooked in the narrative of manifest destiny.

This semester, I'm trying something a bit different because what I find in teaching labor history is that many of my students are incredibly disconnected from the events I wanted to talk about and the stories I wanted to tell.  I also found that in my attempts to ensure I was doing my job that I lost some the fundamental elements of my teaching style that made it fun and interesting.

One of the things I'm doing is simply changing research topics, for a while. My classes are going to be examining some events from local history: the 1855 Bloody Monday Election Riots, The 1937 Ohio River Flood, and river stories and myths. We're going to talk about how these narratives -- and the narratives of more current events -- impact ourselves as individuals, as a city, and as a larger culture.

So basically -- I'm going to tell stories, read and talk about essay drafts, and focus the important stuff.

And, you know, take attendance. Can't escape the all the tedium.

But I am grateful to have some kind of work
*The latest article of important was about how Louisvillians in their 20's move to Germantown, where the rent is cheap. You know... like they have for the past 20 years.
**I have written before about how the term "creative writing" annoys me because it implies that some kinds of writing isn't creative or part of a creative process.
*** Academic writing, apparently, has no creative process. Don't get me started.

If you like what you read, please consider helping support the author. Thanks for reading!

19 November, 2015

"The Four-Year War"; or the Whimpering Acquiescence of Organized Trade Labor *

The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor. -- Camus

Signs at every entrance to the UAW Local Hall instructed anyone driving a foreign car to park in the side lot, away from street view. Luckily,The Blue Burrito is a 95 Dodge Ram -- older than any other car in the parking lot and made, I was assured by the previous owner, my uncle, of American steel.**

I found a parking spot, finished my cigarillo, and focused on my purpose to quiet my nerves. I had fought the urge to take a drink all evening in order to quell the frenetic firing of every piston and synapses in my head.

It was a long shot, and I knew it.

My plan was to try and convince the Central Labor Council to work with me and organize a massive state-wide protest against Kentucky Governor-Elect Matt Bevin's campaign promise to push through Right-to-Work legislation, basically removing the one or two teeth labor unions have in the Commonwealth. As I see it, the windmills really are dragons, and need tilting.

Organized Trade Labor in the state had cast its lot with a milquetoast candidate in Jack Conway. Conway lost the election to a guy who campaigned at a cock fight, who threw temper tantrums at the state Democratic Headquarters, and who has consistently used a lot of flag waving and hyperbolic religiosity to avoid criticisms of his murky past. The Democratic Candidate barely ran a campaign, and relied on others -- like members of AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, the SEIU, and ASFCME -- to do the heavy lifting for him.***

I walked into the hall, preparing myself. I'd looked up the Constitution of the CLC, saw how the meetings were ran. I've been in enough meetings to know there's always the busy-ness part of  the meeting.

I wasn't sure what my contact there looked like, and things were about ready to begin, so I found a seat at one of the long tables-- strategically by the door.

The meeting commenced with a prayer and the pledge^, then rolled right into the wound licking. They'd made progress, real progress, in terms of their door knocking and phone calling -- though I don't recall anyone knocking on my door in the South End. People were thanked and comments were made about the Governor-Elect. People hide powerlessness with humor sometimes, and this meeting was no different.

A Democratic candidate who wants the District 46 seat -- the current seat warmer is retiring -- stood up and talked briefly about his pro-labor vita. He's going to fight the good fight and protect the interests of organized labor, by God, if they are kind enough to allow him the honor of being the Democratic candidate without a costly runoff campaign.

There I sat with what I expected to be the backbone of labor. There were Teamsters there, for fuck's sake. The leadership is as corrupt as hell, but still -- TEAMSTERS. They don't do much marching themselves, but they have resources to move literal mountains.

And yet there I sat, listening to the backbone of American labor bend. There were talks of elections. Of gearing up. Of golf scrambles. Of successes in getting TARC bus drivers reinstated through due process -- even as every person in there had to know their due process was on life support and an egg timer.

Then I was introduced and had my turn. My action plan, I decided, would simply scare them off. It required them to step up to the line -- to honestly step up to the goddamn line and put their boots into a direct action. No due process. No mealy-mouthing. No pandering. Direct Action. Instead, I changed my approach and offered something of a structure they could engage. I called it The Louisville Pushback. I said there was a website in the works, and the plan included both a candle light vigil the night of Bevin's closed inauguration and peaceful protests the day of. We need people, I reiterated. Lots of people. I pointed out that when Wisconsin tried to protest Scott Walker's Right-to-Work laws, it failed because there was no threat behind it. I told them protest without the threat and promise of a state-wide strike will not accomplish anything.

The audience was polite, but no one met my eye as I stepped down. The CLC president asked what the website address was, so I repeated what I planned for it to be.

As I was going back to my seat by the door, an older man stood up. He sat near the middle of the room. He pointed out that Andy Beshear had won the Attorney General race. Andy Beshear would was their guy, he said. Andy Beshear was going to stop Matt Bevin from hurting working people. Beshear would do the heavy lifting.

You know... because that sort of third party strategy worked so well for "their guy" Conway.

Subtext: he had no intention of putting his boots anywhere, and didn't think anyone else should either. "This is a four year war," he said. The phrase stuck with me. I wondered if he is thinking about how much damage an ambitious little fascist demagogue like Bevin can do in four years. I wondered then, and I wonder now, if it has occurred to any of those in attendance that simply based on attitude, the war is already lost.

I waited until the meeting adjourned to leave. I walked out alone, lit a cigarillo, and drove The Blue Burrito straight to the bar.

*Whenever I use a semi-colon and over-explanatory title, I think of my former American Lit professor, Layne Neeper --who appreciated the arcane style of my essay titles if only out irony and a wry sense of humor.
** "Parts made in America ... and assembled in Mexico." - My Uncle. Hence half the reason my truck is named The Blue Burrito. You can guess the other half.
*** Good thing they're used to heavy loads. The loads will probably get heavier very soon.
^ I will not say the Pledge of Allegiance until people decide to actually make it happen. But do take my hat off out of respect for my father and other veterans I have known.

11 June, 2015

Solidarity Along the Dirty, Sacred River, Part 2: Action


A wise man is one who realizes that pissing off a donkey will only make him kick. With any luck, you've seen the Insider Louisville  article by David Serchuk about my situation. Some crucial information that is awaiting authentication was left out; but with any luck, when my open records request is answered (I was notified by email this week that it is forthcoming), there will be more, which I mentioned in my previous post. There are some updates, however, that I can talk about prior to seeing what the KCTCS Office of Legal Counsel releases.

  1. After some some research and the help of some supportive friends, I've learned that the National Labor Relations Board laid down no less than 4 decisions against employers using social media posts as a justification for firing an employee. 
  2. While it is true that I was a fixed-contract/ at will employee, the fact is that their dramatic bushwack of a meeting had nothing to do with terminating my employment for any of the vague reasons given by Lisa Brodsky or the spokeswoman for KCTCS, Kristin Middleton.  
  3. Toni Whalen, head of HR at the Louisville campus said specifically, in this meeting, that the FERPA violation would be the reason for termination listed in personnel file -- not that a class didn't make (it did, I was on my way to teach it), or that there was no need (the current adjuncts are stretched and exploited as it is). It could fall under the generic heading of "administrative matters." 
  4. If my termination were simply a matter of either 1) them not needing staff or 2) the class not making, all they had to do -- and all they would normally do -- is inform me over email, generally through my department chair. Had they done that, I might not have just cause for retaliation. It would have been a suspicious termination, but a legal one nonetheless.

Something else to consider is the fact that while the Facebook post may be a rare example of one my less than stellar social media moments, the fact is, all the information in that post is covered by an exception listed in FERPA:

"Another exception permits a school to non-consensually disclose personally identifiable information from a student's education records when such information has been appropriately designated as directory information. "Directory information" is defined as information contained in the education records of a student that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed. Directory information could include information such as the student's name, address, e-mail address, telephone listing, photograph, date and place of birth, major field of study, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, weight and height of members of athletic teams, dates of attendance, degrees and awards received, the most recent previous educational agency or institution attended, grade level or year (such as freshman or junior), and enrollment status (undergraduate or graduate; full-time or part-time)."

And, in spite of what people outside the inner halls of higher yearning institutions, FERPA offenses -- be they alleged, borderline, or confirmed -- are not handled directly by the Academic Dean, the head of HR, and the Provost.  If this situation had been handled SIMPLY ON THE MERITS THEY CLAIMED IN THE MEETING, I would have

  1. been called to a meeting with my department chair and given a severe tongue lashing; and
  2. ordered to undergo a FERPA counseling session...
both of which would have been marked in my personnel file.

I haven't even gone into detail about the administrative path my termination took. That's some murky shit, friends and readers.

And that, along with more about the scab otherwise known as #respondent53, is for a later post.

Please Help

I want to thank everyone who signed the petition to have me reinstated without prejudice. If you'd still like to, or if you want to pass it around, here it is.

A friend and Fellow Worker, J.P. Wright, has started a small support fund. If you'd like to contribute, go here.

Some have expressed an interest in writing letters of support of my reinstatement. Here are some addresses:

Insider Louisville: Sarah Kelley, VP of Content and Editorial Director:

LEO WeeklyAaron Yarmuth Executive Editor:

Louisville Courier Journal:

JCTC Human Resources: Toni Whalen, Head of Human Resources at JCTC:

KCTCS Head of Human Resources: Jackie Cecil:


03 June, 2015

Solidarity Along the Dirty, Sacred, River: The Virtue of Proportional Response

I had an entirely different blog entry planned.

The blog I was going write was going to regale you, dear friends and readers, with the terrible tale of #respondent53 -- a scab of the worst sort who was sneakily trying to undermine the attempts of myself and others to improve the work conditions at one of the places I taught here in River City.

The blog I was going to write was going to talk about adjunct activism and how I see it as a natural extension of the class war that is destroying unions, has decimated the middle class, and has demonized the poor and under-employed.

Instead, however, I find myself writing about how I got fired.

When I began even thinking about getting involved in adjunct activism, I knew there were risks. Kentucky is an anti-labor, anti-union state. The culture of fear and apathy among educational workers is pervasive.  I say among educational workers, but in fact, that culture of fear and apathy -- fear of reprisal and apathy that things can ever get any better -- is just as pervasive in any other segment of the work force.  That educational workers are not exempt from these feelings -- including adjunct instructors -- is part of what forced me to speak up. Everyone knows what the problems are and has pretty good ideas on what, specifically, needs to be changed.

But people are scared -- for every legitimate reason in the world.  No one wants to lose their spot at the table, or risk seeing their families suffer the impact of extended unemployment. We have so much to lose -- homes, position, respect -- that to stand up and demand reasonable change feels impossible.

Yet that is what I and others have done.

Some of you might recall this article in LEO about The Louisville Teach-In. The attention was generally good and did foster some not entirely bad results. One institution flat out called us liars and the other called for a committee to examine and make recommendations regarding the issue of adjunct labor. Not only was I named to the committee, I was elected one of the three co-chairs of the committee. My first action was to forward a recommendation that would give adjunct the same status and voting privileges as full time faculty. This was met with resistance and with interest, but I knew it was only a matter of time. One colleague in particular objected because voting was something full time people get paid for. Her solution was a lump sum pay increase.

After a cursory look at the annual budget summary, however, it became clear that there was no money for such an increase -- which made my voting proposal start to look even better since, on the face of it, it was what the bean counters call "budget neutral."

When I was on the way back from my honey moon, someone from human resources called to set up a meeting with the Academic Dean. I was told that the purpose of the meeting was "budgetary."

Walking into the meeting, I was bushwacked by the Academic Dean, the Provost and the Head of  Human Resources, who informed me that the TRUE nature of the meeting was a disciplinary one. It was brought to their attention  that I'd made comments on Facebook that they chose to interpret as problematic. They claim I violated a student's FERPA rights even though
  1. I never mentioned a student's name, and
  2. there was no mention of specific grades.
I was complaining about a hypothetical student's refusal to follow directions. This is something that a lot of teachers do, especially in the throes of a grading frenzy.

The thing about FERPA is that there are no two institutions that interpret it the same way. In places it is so vaguely worded that it is unclear whether instructors are allowed to discuss grades with students via email or whether that in and of itself constitutes a violation.

Another thing about FERPA is this: generally FERPA violations are handled with a stern warning and some in house "counseling."  Not only was I fired, but I have been barred from employment at all KCTCS campuses -- all 64 of them across the state.

I also know that my neither my department chair nor division chair were notified or included in this process; the department chair wasn't told she needed to staff the class I was prepared to walk in and teach on the same day I was fired until AFTER I was fired.

That gave her about an hour to find a qualified person to step into my place.

My firing and banishment was ordered from on high, from the central office legal division -- where the true seat of power in any corporate structure sits. The person who filed the complaint against me -- another adjunct who I have alluded to in social media as #respondent53 -- turned me in to the system PUBLIC RELATIONS OFFICE. #Respondent53, I have on good authority, trolled my page for a good 6 months trying to find something on me to use.

I call this person #respondent53 because when my co-organizer Kate sent out an adjunct survey -- to begin getting a system wide idea of where people's concerns were -- this person used the survey to attack us personally.  Regardless of whatever political disagreements people have with me, the fact is that making fun of how I dress is not an appropriate critical approach. It's insipid and juvenile and rooted in the very rot that is killing higher education and murdering the intellectual and creative spirit of the country as a whole.

My response to this event is that I plan taking action on multiple levels, legal and public. The excuse is flimsy and I have no doubt that the action taken against me is retaliatory.  I've already begun the process of exploring possible appeals -- because this attempt to silence me is not really about me at all.

The real issue is that when adjuncts stand up and demand to be treated with respect, they are systematically retaliated against in order to keep everyone else in line. It's true that progress has been made in other places across the country; but that progress has been hard fought and not without sacrifice. We're going to move forward with our efforts to organize and to unionize and to fight for change. Adjuncts deserve better. Students deserve better than bean counters who don't care about whether there's someone to teach the class. The public deserves an educational system that allows people to grow into active, productive, critically-minded citizens.