Yesterday, Broward College adjunct professor Evan Rowe fired a warning signal when he announced via an article published in New Times that he is starting a union for adjunct faculty and may organize a strike. Adjuncts make up about 60 percent of BC's teaching staff, and Rowe says the max he can earn per year teaching a full load is $16,000. Because of scheduling this term, he's been assigned only a half load, meaning he'll make $8,000.
Last night, the college issued a statement suggesting that it may indeed raise adjuncts' pay this summer. The statement also said the college hoped to avoid a strike and pointed out that Florida law makes it illegal for employees of public institutions to strike.
The Florida constitution states that "no public employee or employee organization may participate in a strike against a public employer by instigating or supporting, in any manner, a strike."
If public employees strike, courts can force them back to work, fine them (up to $5,000, or $50 to $100 for each day of the strike), and hold them liable for damages. Worse for the individuals, they can be fired or, if retained, they're banned for a year from getting a raise. Organizations planning strikes can be fined up to $20,000 per day.
In many states, these anti-union laws were passed so that teachers, firefighters, and police could be depended upon to be at service. Florida's constitution was amended by general election in 1944 and revised by general election November 5, 1968, according to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation Inc.
Still, adjuncts in other states have organized strikes in violation of their states' laws. Adjuncts at Nassau Community College organized a strike last year. About 60 percent of that school's classes are taught by adjuncts. A judge ordered the professors back to work, and they were fined for two days' pay. The union president in that case said the fines imposed were "certainly nothing compared with the indignity and disrespect shown to us by the [board]" but also lamented that only 20 percent of adjunct faculty had been brave enough to walk off the job. Adjuncts there continue to push for contract negotiations that would result in better pay.
Adjuncts have also reportedly been organizing in Boston, Seattle, and D.C.
Speaking yesterday afternoon, Rowe said he's not scared of breaking the law.
For one, he says he will "redefine" the strike. "They have a very narrow legal definition of what a strike is -- it's a work stoppage." These are not always effective anyway, Rowe says. In most modern industries, a company a "can still maintain production without that many people -- by using machines or [implementing longer wait times to be served]."
He said students in solidarity with his plight plan to set up informational tables on campus with signs saying "Do you know how much your professor is being paid?" but declined to talk in detail about other strategies.
He pointed to what happened last year at Florida Atlantic University, where students objected to a football stadium being named after private prison operator GEO Group. "Occupying the president's office with 15 people brought her down!"
If he and his supporters do decide on a work stoppage, Rowe says, he has almost nothing to lose. "I only have two classes," he said. "I'm already dead." Both the air conditioning and power windows were broken in his car, and he could not afford the $300 to fix them. "I have $400 to my name. My friend helped me get food stamps yesterday."
In general, he says, these days are "a very bad climate for the working class majority, but you can't live your life in fear all the time. At some time, you just have to draw a line in the sand. You can't constantly live life afraid of conflict and afraid of consequences. Nothing is going to improve from the majority standpoint until people accept that they have to engage in conflict [to earn gains]. There's no win-win when you have a small number of people with a lot of power. There was no win-win [in the Civil War] -- you can't have have slaves win and slave owners win."
He says that "playing by the official rules" -- like getting representation and making appeals to superiors -- "is such a fool's errand" because professors have almost no leverage. "It makes much more sense to use a smaller unit that can carry out repeated actions over and over again. I'm going to run with a smaller crew and recruit the bravest of the brave -- the most capable of carrying out strike actions."
Over the years, he says, "I have floated every possible [alternative]. I've played nice for years." After nine years on staff, he should at least have been hired into one of the school's full-time positions that came open, he says.
About 6 p.m. yesterday, Broward College media specialist Tina David emailed the following statement from the university:
Broward College strives to create a fulfilling work environment for all of its faculty and staff. Adjunct professors are valued colleagues of the Broward College community, and they play an imperative role in enriching the lives of our students through their real world and current experiences outside of the classroom. In fact, the adjunct position is not designed to be a full-time position. Many adjunct professors are actively employed full-time in their specialized field, which enables them to provide our students with up-to-date and relevant subject knowledge. To provide additional support and training adjuncts need, the College has introduced the Adjunct Faculty Institute, which provides a variety of professional development opportunities and engaging workshops to enrich the professional experience at the College for adjunct professors. Notably, Broward College ranks among the top three colleges (out of 28 total colleges) in the state for adjunct pay rates. Notwithstanding being ranked among the top 3, there have been recent conversations and proposals within the College to review and possibly upwardly adjust adjunct pay rates. This potential upward adjustment will be revisited this summer. Of course, the College would hope that there is no attempt to strike by our adjunct faculty, as strikes by public employees are prohibited by law, and a strike would undoubtedly compromise our students' ability to succeed.
Rowe did not immediately respond to the college's statement last night.
But earlier in the day, he mused about what he would do if he made the amount he's demanding -- $32,000.
He laughed. "My God, that's a pretty funny question. I'd live a normal, boring, median-income life. I'd fix my A/C and move out of my mother's house."
Send story tips to Deirdra.Funcheon@BrowardPalmBeach.com
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