My name is Steve Jones. I am honored to bring you a message of solidarity from my union, the Faculty and Staff Federation of Community College of Philadelphia, and to join all of you in support of A Poor People’s Moral Agenda for Pennsylvania.
We support the demand for equity in education, ensuring every child receives a high-quality, well-funded, diverse public education, and an end to the re-segregation of schools.
We support the demand for “equitable funding for historically black colleges and universities and full funding for community colleges.”
Our union is currently in a fight for its life. In the coming weeks we are likely to be forced into a strike that would disrupt the education plans for our 27,000 students, and would result in hardship and anxiety for our 1,200 members, who include full-time and part-time professors and support staff; in other words, all the people who make higher education possible for Philadelphia’s poor and dispossessed working class students.
Why would we put so much at risk? The answer is that we believe that our union is the moral force for the college we love so much. I have taught English as a second language at the college for over thirty years. I feel a close bond with my immigrant students, and I love my job, which I often say is the best job in the world. Our strike, if it happens, will be a cry for justice not only for us workers, but for community colleges across Pennsylvania Our college is one of the largest degree-granting institutions in a city full of colleges and universities. But our college is unique in providing higher education to a student body that is made up of a majority of working class people, and a majority of people of color. Our union believes that our students deserve the same care and attention, or more care and attention, than students at the University of Pennsylvania or other private colleges receive. We resist the idea that poor and working class students don’t need access to education in critical thinking and all the areas of human achievement.
Our union is resisting the furious attempts to force our faculty to teach more students in more classes, an academic “speed-up” that would harm our ability to provide a quality education. Our fight as a union to limit teaching loads is not only good for us, it is also good for students, who are guaranteed that their teacher has time to talk to them outside of class, and learn about them as human beings. Powerful forces in society are attempting to drag us into a race to the bottom in terms of teaching and learning conditions, and they have targeted our union contract as the obstacle to their plans to shrink the faculty, and lay off many of our valued part-time instructors who bring experience from outside academia to their teaching.
And this not a fight about more money for teachers. Our union is saying “no” to extra pay for an unsustainable teaching load. But the Campaign has correctly identified the issue of funding for colleges that poor people and people color attend. Through Pennsylvania Act 484, there is a legal and moral commitment for the state to fund a third of each community college’s operating costs, and for the local college sponsor to fund a third, leaving a third to be paid by students. At our college, and in Bucks and Montgomery Counties, students pay more like two-thirds of the costs, a stealth privatization of what should be public institutions. At Butler County Community College, 27% of students have to borrow to go to college. At Northampton Community College, over a third of students are borrowing, averaging more than $5000 a year. At Harrisburg Area Community College, borrowing is even higher. Full funding for community colleges means that students don’t have to exhaust themselves with other work while they study and care for their families, and it means that they don’t drown in debt after they graduate.
We support the demand that “elected officials take a stand for healthcare as a human right and public good.”
Our community colleges in Pennsylvania are straining under the weight of healthcare costs for workers. It’s time to end the outdated system in which access to quality healthcare is determined by the job a person has, or whether they have a union. Instead of shifting costs of healthcare onto employees, as our employer is attempting, we support the demand for publicly-funded universal healthcare. And universal means universal.
We support the demand for “a living wage for every worker, including farm and domestic workers, and a guaranteed income for all that is not at poverty levels.”
Some of our members in the college’s support staff, those who provide the clean and welcoming environment in which students can study, are now earning less than $12, in a city in which a true living wage for one adult and a child would be over $25. Everyone in Pennsylvania, whether their work is care for children or other family members, or whether it is paid work, deserves a living wage, not a poverty wage.
We support the demand for a high-quality, well-funded, diverse public education!
We support the demand for equitable funding for historically black colleges and universities and full funding for community colleges!
We support the demand that elected officials take a stand for healthcare as a human right and public good!
We support the demand for a living wage for every worker!