CSUN community gathers to inform through picketing

Sam Womack

At one point, there were 188 students, faculty and employees picketing alongside Sierra Center on Darby Street for a little over an hour to protest CSU contract negotiations, a possible rise in student fees and executive perks.

Chants such as “Hey, hey what do you say? Give us a contract right away! Hey, hey what do you say? We want classes right away! Hey, hey don’t delay! Stop the perks right away!” and signs reading, “Fund more classes, not exec asses!” dominated the sidewalk. The crowd and their message received honks from passing cars and curious looks from uninformed students.

There are 1,800 faculty members on campus and the California Faculty Association represents them all in spite of the fact that not all are registered in the union.

“On CSUN’s campus, the majority of tenure track faculty and part-time faculty with multiple year contracts are registered with CFA,” said Audrena Redmond, a CFA staff member.

“Whether or not they’re part of the union, no one would disagree our salaries are abysmal,” said David Diaz, an assistant professor of urban studies and planning.

Currently, contract negotiations have been in limbo for 28 months leaving professors, coaches, librarians, counselors, teachers and athletic trainers to wonder how many more months their salary and benefits will be in the air.

“This is the third time in the eight years I’ve been here that these same issues come up in the debate over our contracts,” Diaz said. “It’s frustrating for mid-level faculty and very costly for the CSU who has to hire people for the mediation and fact-finding.”

The CSU and CFA will meet this weekend to go over the fact-finding results, but neither party has to accept their recommendations. If there is still no contract agreement, then faculty can legally go on strike.

A group of four students having lunch in the Sierra Center facing the demonstration said they support the CFA completely.

“We want to graduate on time this spring and we wouldn’t mind lower fees,” a fourth-year kinesiology student said. “If they go on strike, that would definitely affect me.”

M.E.Ch.A. President and Chicano/a Studies major Karina Ceja said she came to picket because of similar reasons.

“Since I got here in 2001, fees have probably doubled,” Ceja said. “Every semester we have trouble adding or getting classes, so then we get stuck in school and graduation gets pushed back. All the money they’re taking from us is so we can have more classes available and more classes to facilitate our graduation, so it sucks that our money’s going to the administration’s materialistic tendencies.”

A first year Chicano/a Studies major said he picked up a sign and joined in specifically for faculty.

“Faculty may be afraid to come and speak out because they feel their jobs may be threatened and teachers don’t want to take that risk,” Alejandro Rodriguez said. “But as students, they can’t threaten us, so we have to stand up since sometimes faculty can’t.”

Entire classes showed up to picket and protest with the CFA. Vanessa Grijalva, a CSUN sophomore, and Shir Peler, a freshman business major, both said they participated because of recent class discussions on activism.

“We’ve been going over the faculty situation in class and it made sense for us to get involved, take a stand and see how we can make a difference,” Grijalva said.

Both students agreed that although fee increases are visible from parking passes and books to tuition, the money is not going to faculty.

“It goes to the administration with their big houses, nice cars and fat paychecks,” Grijalva said.

Faculty members present for the picket voiced their encouragement of the CFA’s stubborn stance on contract negotiations.

Part-time lecturer Cecile Bendavid said, “I think they’re doing a good job of seeing through the smoke and mirrors the CSU set up.”

Diaz said he hopes that with two strong Democratic representatives on the CSU Trustee Board and a governor who is willing to compromise, CFA and CSU students will not be the ones to sacrifice yet again.

“Two years ago, there was a $7 billion dollar surplus in California. When all the school districts were lobbying for more funding, our guy sat around like Elmer Fudd,” Diaz said. “Now we have a legislation and governor that could be persuaded to support us and we’re hopeful.”

A representative for Assembly member Lloyd Levine, Stewart Waldman, attended the picket to show solidarity with the CFA’s cause and explain what can be done at the state level. Waldman said the state legislators essentially approve the CSU’s annual budget. If there is a misappropriation of funds the legislature exists to write it.

“We’re hoping to begin putting political pressure on the CSU system by becoming more involved with the budget process,” Waldman said.

He added that whenever legislators get involved in employee/faculty relations with administrators there is sure to be a certain amount of conflict.

Waldman admitted that the CSU budget does seem to address salary lags and the high amount of deferred costs, but the main problem is there is simply not enough money to address all the problems in the CSU system.

“You can never really have enough money, can you?” Waldman said.

In spite of a non-competitive and barely livable salary, budget cuts and a lack of support, faculty members say they choose to stay at CSUN instead of accepting a job elsewhere for better pay and benefits.

“I live close. My kids went here; I went here. I love this school,” Bendavid said.

When asked what keeps him here, Diaz replied, “Not much. At times we question our own sanity.” Unfortunately, he explained, the administration does not do enough to hire and maintain qualified professors, and faculty begins to work just for the paycheck.

Yesterday’s informational picketing was one in a string of pickets across the state, including simultaneous pickets at San Francisco State and CSU Channel Islands. CSUN Director of Public Relations John Chandler stopped by the picketing and later said, “I think today’s turnout was pretty comparable to other campus pickets.”

“Informational picketing like today’s activity is a pretty normal part of the collective bargaining process, and we respect the right of our faculty members to express their views and lobby for what they believe in,” Chandler said.

He added that although CSUN President Jolene Koester is on the advisory committee to the CSU Chancellor and Board of Trustees on contract negotiations, her recommendations or stand on the CFA issues are internal.

“I think from the university’s perspective, there has never been a system-wide faculty union strike in the entire history of the CSU, and we hope that it stays that way,” Chandler said. “We remain hopeful that the CSU and CFA will come to some agreement on a multi-year contract later this year.”

For students and faculty who doubt the CFA’s negotiation process and unwillingness to capitulate, the CFA Web site contains facts and figures contradictory to the CSU’s and explanations for their actions, and are encouraged by CFA staff to personally research the topic.