Being a member of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers has been a blessing. When the University cut faculty and non-Union staff health care benefits, which I discussed in a previous post, we kept ours due to the power of the bargaining unit. Now that I am one year deep into a series of medical issues, I have realized that without the bargaining unit, I would either be in serious medical debt or have potentially avoided diagnostic testing.
Likewise, this summer/fall I have once again realized how incredibly important HUCTW is for me as a contract employee. My term ends in 6 months, and I have been told I will know “sometime this fall” whether my contract is extended, terminated, or I have been converted into a permanent employee. My department has requested I be made permanent, but HR and Central Admin have to clear everything first. “Sometime this fall” does not do me a whole lot of good in the Academic job market…when jobs, with incredibly involved, complicated applications, tend to be posted once a year. Starting now.
But a tenure track job buys five years of guaranteed employment. If tenure is not earned, you are out the door.
The benefit of the HUCTW is that I have people I can talk to who can tell me exactly what my rights and benefits are, who are there to advocate for me within a very overwhelming University system. This means everything right now. I know now that I’m not going to be left hanging; the support system in place helps me navigate it all and prepare for potential changes in employment status, or even to secure new employment.
At this point I don’t care about being vocal regarding these matters, about “damaging my chances for TT employment” by being open about labor issues. So many of us in Academia now are contingent employees, relieved to get even a semester’s worth of work, signing apartment leases that outlast our contracts and keeping fingers crossed something will come through.
Happy Labor Day, my academic and alt-academic friends. Fight for your Unions so they can fight for our benefits and security. We’re people, not just a bottom line.