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The Mass Media

Bargaining for the Common Good teach-in promotes union solidarity

Elijah Horwath
The Faculty-Staff Union, which represents both faculty and librarians on campus, met with the university. Photo sent in by Elijah Horwath.

A “Bargaining for the Common Good” teach-in and speak-out hosted by the Africana Studies Department on Monday, April 29 sought to demonstrate how unions across the country—not just faculty or teacher unions, but all worker unions—can utilize their bargaining power to fight for broader community changes. The event was the last session of the Sankofa series, which was funded by the Faculty Staff Union Anti-Racism Grant.  

According to Karen Grayson, an English Professor who gave the opening remarks for the event, the purpose of the teach-in was to “explore pathways to social repair and campus transformation, and [attempt] to give voice to the multiple realities at UMB.” Grayson also said that “many students do not experience UMB as anti-racist and health-promoting.”  

The event was moderated by Professors Keith Jones and Anthony Van Der Meer of the Africana Studies Department, both of whom gave speeches about the impact of common bargaining. Van Der Meer began his introduction by describing how faculty, especially from the Africana Studies Department, have been “shut out” of the bargaining process by administrators.  

Related to his claim was the FSU’s second bargaining meeting, which administrators again refused to attend, citing the union’s demand that their extended bargaining team be allowed to meet by Zoom. Members of the FSU gathered on Wednesday, May 1 in the room where administrators had previously agreed to meet to protest the decision.  

In addition to his comments on union bargaining, Van Der Meer called for UMass Boston to educate its students about “all the histories of wealth accumulation among the economic elites, racism, white supremacy, endless war, islamophobia, anti-Asian violence, queer and trans violence, attacks on women’s reproductive rights, anti-immigrant violence and an ongoing white settler colonial violence against native peoples everywhere and on every continent.” In his eyes, these struggles are connected to the common struggle of exploited workers across the globe. 

Van Der Meer also highlighted the fact that the Anti-Racism Grant was itself the result of the FSU bargaining for anti-racism on campus, led by members of the Africana Studies Department. These anti-racist measures included mandatory classes on Critical Race and Ethnic Studies alongside Queer Studies, Asian-American Studies, Native Studies and Latinx Studies. 

Jones also spoke to Gaza and the recent encampments across the United States, saying, “Local and national officials [are] more concerned with ending encampments than ending U.S. complicity in genocide. Students, faculty and staff at universities nationally and globally are demanding a transformation of U.S. values and policies.”  

He then introduced the key principles of bargaining for the common good, which included calls to “expand the scope of bargaining beyond wages and benefits,” “engage community allies as partners in issue development and the bargaining campaign,” and crucially, to commit to campaigning after the union settles its contract. 

Panelists from across the country included Bianca Cunningham, the Campaign Director for Bargaining for the Common Good; Nelson Rodriguez, Treasurer of the Boston and Rhode Island Hospitality Workers Union; Johanna Maldonado, an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union; and Ashaki Binta, a political activist who targets Black freedom and women’s rights. 

The speakers were asked, “What does bargaining for the common good mean, and how have you been able to put it into practice as an organizing framework within your union?” and later, “What have been your successes in bargaining for the common good? What have been your challenges?” 

All the organizers described the ways in which their unions were able to bring their respective communities together, particularly Black and Brown communities without the same access to resources as their white counterparts. Through collective bargaining, they were able to fight for affordable housing, restoration of libraries and schools, and the creation of “spaces where we’re practicing democracy together,” as Cunningham said.  

The event concluded with a Q&A session including the four panelists, as well as various union leaders from UMass Boston campus. The speakers stressed the need for not just student-faculty and student-staff solidarity, but also for inter-union solidarity and connectedness. 

About the Contributor
Elijah Horwath, Opinions Editor