Often used as a lecture hall for students, Room 133 in the Center for Computing and Information Sciences became the venue for a special birthday celebration last Friday. Montclair State University faculty, different planning departments and guests from several other New Jersey schools filled the space to celebrate 50 years of the Montclair State faculty union.
As part of the national organization American Federation of Teachers (AFT), last Friday marked the 50th anniversary of Montclair State’s charter established on Sept. 14, 1968. Since its birth, AFT Local 1904 has been a force in support of fair treatment of faculty and students at Montclair State.
AFT Local member and Coordinator of Quality and Accreditation at the Feliciano School of Business Ellie Esposito felt that Montclair State’s union was especially helpful compared to other unions she’s been a part of.
“The unions I was in at Rutgers [University] and Ramapo [College], I never saw any of the representatives, ever. Didn’t know who to reach out to if I had questions,” Esposito said. “Here at Montclair [State], they are wonderful. They have these meetings, they’re open to your questions. I love being part of the unions here.”
Donna Chiera, president of the state branch of AFT, explained the importance of having a union.
“If it wasn’t for a union here, the professional staff probably wouldn’t have pay, they wouldn’t have some job security,” Chiera said. “Adjunct faculty, there’s over a thousand of them here in Montclair [State]. Whatever they have now, they have because of a union, and it’s still not enough.”
Chiera went on to explain that universities often hire adjuncts as a form of cheaper labor, and as a result, adjuncts are usually not provided office spaces or other resources to help accommodate students. However, through the support of a faculty union, adjuncts are able to get more benefits. She also said that faculty unions are currently fighting for university administrations to be more transparent with how they spend their money.
Much of AFT’s work was displayed in a slideshow toward the beginning of the anniversary celebration. Songs like Woody Guthrie’s “Union Maid” and Ralph Chaplin’s “Solidarity Forever” played as images showed AFT Local 1904 members picketing in support of workers rights, encouraging people to vote, awarding students scholarship money and demonstrating community support in other ways.
After the slideshow, current AFT Local 1904 President Richard Wolfson gave a summary of the charter’s history. Following Wolfson, New Jersey Assemblyman Thomas Giblin congratulated the union on their accomplishments. Chiera then introduced the keynote speaker, AFT National President Randi Weingarten.
Although Weingarten acknowledged serious issues in her speech, such as attempts by politicians to attack workers rights and economic challenges of students, the tone of her speech was hopeful about the future.
“Young people believe in having power together with others,” Weingarten said. “They get that fending for oneself, and the rich rigging the economic and political system has left them with 1.5 trillion dollars of student debt, and that has not transferred to even an investment in colleges. They get more than everyone else that the way you create power is through unions.”
According to data gathered by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2017, only 6.5 percent of workers in the United States private sector belong to a union and only 34.4 percent of workers in the public sector belonged to one. However, workers who belonged to a union earned 20 percent higher pay than those who didn’t belong to a union.
Despite the apparent benefits of being a union, they have often been attacked throughout U.S. history. Right-to-work (RTW) laws have been used in many states to take bargaining power away from unions, resulting in consequences. According to data gathered by the Economic Policy Institute, workers in RTW states make less than workers in states free of RTW laws.
Although some people in power attempt to limit collective bargaining, unions have been an important part of U.S. history and have played a big role in supporting workers by securing them benefits such as the 40-hour work week, child labor laws, minimum wages and the two-day weekend. AFT Local, now consisting of 1,133 members, shows that unions are likely here to stay.
AFT Local member and Laboratory Equipment Technician in the Montclair State biology department Adam Parker explained why he feels people should support unions.
“People sometimes forget how hard it is without a union,” Parker said. “If you don’t have anybody as a collective looking out for you, then it’s very easy for people to be manipulated and suppressed by employers or corporations or whoever has the ultimate power. When people come together in those positions underneath the big bosses, then it gives them the power to fight back for their rights.”