No more retreating at CCSF

City College of San Francisco faculty member Deborah Goldsmith explains what's wrong with the contract her union has put up for ratification.

City College of San Francisco building

I'M PART of a group of faculty at City College of San Francisco calling for a "no" vote on our union's proposed concessionary contract. What may look like a temporary loss if the contract is ratified is in fact another step in a broad attack on higher education in California.

As in 2002, our union, American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, has negotiated a contract including a pay freeze for instructors, librarians and counselors. The $1.4 million "savings" is supposedly being used to reduce class cuts during 2009-2010, although 800 course sections are still being eliminated. While negotiating to protect part-timers' health benefits, union officials saw no alternative to accepting the fact that the California state budget cuts community college funds statewide by $840 million.

What's wrong with this proposed deal? First, the pay freeze would be especially painful for newer faculty, who are further down the pay scale. Second, we deserve our pay. It's not up to us to sacrifice to keep the institution afloat. And it's not even doing that: Essential student services in counseling, matriculation, and programs for disabled and low-income students have been reduced by 30 percent, with larger cuts planned for spring semester.

Most of all, the current cuts in funding for all California higher education are not a one-time, temporary loss. Even California Community College Chancellor Jack Scott has warned that further mid-year budget cuts are "quite likely" as state tax revenues continue to drop in the recession.

Moreover, annual budget deficits will rise unless the state's legislators move beyond "borrowing and gimmicks." And City College's current budget plans for more cuts in programs and classes in 2010-11. This means layoffs, sooner or later.

The massive fee increases and program cuts at California's public universities show what's really going on. City College's deficits reflect an overall move to restructure all California higher education through lower enrollments and higher fees. The goal is to shrink the entire California higher education system so it focuses on providing the smaller elite of educated workers sought by industry, while barring working-class people from seeking the "American dream" of better jobs through education.

Many faculty members at City College initially supported the proposed contract out of a desire to preserve classes and part-time jobs this year. But concessions aren't a reasonable response today--they just weaken the union and prepare faculty for further concessions.

It's essential that we begin to resist these attacks. As we join students and workers in protest, we must stand up for our own jobs and pay. It's up to Sacramento to come up with the money for the work we do and the quality education our students deserve.

It will take stronger action than lobbying and annual marches in Sacramento to change California's underfunding of higher education. Legislators must be pushed to cut the 10 percent of the state's operating budget spent on prisons and raise taxes on corporations, the rich and oil extraction (which is currently untaxed).

The attack on California higher education will not stop until faculty, students, staff and concerned community members declare that it is unacceptable. The September 24 walkouts at the University of California statewide point the way for the militancy we need.

At City College, the fight by faculty starts now with our contract. We're calling on instructors, counselors and librarians to reject the negotiated pay concessions as the first step in building a movement to save quality higher education in California.

If you're at CCSF and interested in getting involved with our group, please contact me. We need all the energy we can get in this struggle--starting with "No" votes against ratifying our contract.