By Marco Siler-Gonzales
The rain didn’t let up on the morning of April 27, but neither did City College faculty, who multiplied in numbers as the rain fell harder on the street corners of Ocean campus at the start of the faculty union’s school-wide strike.
Signs and umbrellas held high, demonstrators gathered at select locations on the perimeter of Ocean campus to protest unfair labor practices with the district.
“I’m sad that it’s come to this point, but I’m hopeful to get what we need in the end, which is a fair contract for faculty and a wage that lets us live in this city,” math instructor Mary Bravewoman said.
City College’s faculty union, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 2121, have been in negotiations with the administration for over a year now. But the AFT claims the administration has been bargaining in bad faith, leaving faculty working without a settled contract.
“Negotiations started in January 2015. The administration has been dragging their feet ever since then,” AFT Negotiating Team representative and engineering instructor Wendy Kaufmyn said.
City College Interim Chancellor Susan Lamb previously notified the union that the strike was illegal because it occurred during the fact-finding process, a step taken in an attempt to mediate on-going negotiations.
The AFT turned down the administration’s latest offer, a 7.19 percent full-time salary increase over the next two years, which the union said would only raise their wages 1.7 percent over 2007 wages.
The administration did not respond to requests for comment, but Lamb closed all 11 City College campuses in response to the strike, citing safety concerns. April 27’s faculty-led strike marked the first ever in City College’s 80 years of existence.
Multiple Campuses Active
A small, dedicated group of protesters gathered at City College’s administrative offices at 33 Gough St. by 8 a.m. with picket signs, warm smiles and morning greetings for passersby as they began their day of action against unfair labor practices. The union had organized protesters to picket at Gough Street and seven other campus locations throughout the day.
“We’re not really so focused on how many; we just want to make sure there is a presence at every campus and every building,” English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor Diane Wallis said. “(We) just want to make sure the city sees that we’re supporting public education and we’re trying to support City College as a public institution.”
AFT president Tim Killikelly arrived at Ocean campus midmorning, ecstatic from the support he had seen at John Adams campus. “The college decided to close the school down because they understand the support we have from the community and students and how united faculty are to get a fair contract,” Killikelly said.
Civic Center Erupts
Protesters converged at noon among the hustle and bustle of Civic Center plaza to demonstrate in the long-awaited sunlight with a unified and spirited rally.
The rally proved that the faculty were not alone—representatives from Service Employees International Union, Associated Students, the Department Chair Council and Teamsters, among others, brought numbers to the crowd.
City College student Luis. G.R held a sign with his friends that read, “Cuts to City College=Gentrification”. G.R, among many other students and faculty, believe the pending cuts to class offerings are a step to purposely downsize the college.
“I had to change my major from zoology to biology because so many zoology classes have been cut, and now it’s even harder for me to get classes for biology,” said G.R, a student since 2011. “These cuts make people leave and go somewhere else.”
End To Historic Day
“You can either get depressed or angry, or you can connect with people, because morale among faculty has gotten really low,” said Kathe Burick, a dance teacher in her 37th year at City College. Burick was on the picket line at dawn, yelling out chants to save City College through her megaphone toward the Ocean Avenue morning commute.
By the time evening had set on Ocean Campus, the picket line had dwindled, but Burick’s voice rose prominently over the blustering winds and blaring horns of Ocean Avenue traffic. Her voice finally gave in and cracked through the amplifier.
She took a moment to step aside and take a breath, “The only way to keep it our college is to declare it our college.”
Patrick Fitzgerald contributed to this story.
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