In response to Dec. 13, 2017, P-Fac email on strikebreakers

By Letter to the Editor, by John L. Sutton

On Dec. 13, 2017, I received an email from the steering committee of the Columbia part-time faculty union, the last paragraph of which reads as follows:

“Strike breakers: On a more difficult note, it has become clear that some of our members crossed the picket line.  Some of these people were in the minority and against the strike, but others—amazingly—voted for the strike, but somehow rationalized the need to teach their classes, anyway, thereby undercutting their own union.  This is a very serious offense. Union leadership is being advised by our lawyers and labor leaders to deal severely with these transgressions. We cannot allow individual members to work against the democratic decision and subsequent efforts of the group.  The leadership is currently considering the range of options available.”

I have been a part-time faculty member at Columbia for 15 years.  Perforce, I am also a member of the part-time faculty union.  Although I am a member of the union, I don’t vote; I don’t go to meetings; I don’t acknowledge the picket line. I will not voluntarily participate in the activities of an organization of which I am compelled to be a member.

The coercive character of the union is the fundamental issue. They say they are fighting for my rights, and yet at the outset, they take away a right that is more important than the rights they say they are fighting for—my First Amendment right of free association, a right that is essential to intellectual freedom.

The union says there is no compulsion, and membership in the union is not a condition of employment because I have the option of non-member status.  I chose that option for a year or so as a matter of principle, but I dropped it when I realized that it made no difference and was merely a subterfuge. As a non-member, you are still paying ninety percent of the union dues, you are still supporting the union, and it is still a condition of employment. There is no meaningful difference between member and non-member status.

I don’t have to agree with all of the positions of a union to be willing to be a member—so long as it is voluntary.  But a compulsory union is a non-starter.  Most of my colleagues still believe in compulsory unions, but perhaps the thuggish email we have all just received will start to change some minds.

John L. Sutton, Jr., adjunct professor,

English and Creative Writing