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Film Synopsis

The Hand That Feeds is a documentary film that was screened at Northwestern on April 26. “At a popular bakery café, residents of New York’s Upper East Side get bagels and coffee served with a smile 24 hours a day. But behind the scenes, undocumented immigrant workers face sub-legal wages, dangerous machinery, and abusive managers who will fire them for calling in sick. Mild-mannered sandwich maker Mahoma López has never been interested in politics, but in January 2012, he convinces a small group of his co-workers to fight back.

Risking deportation and the loss of their livelihood, the workers team up with a diverse crew of innovative young organizers and take the unusual step of forming their own independent union, launching themselves on a journey that will test the limits of their resolve. In one roller-coaster year, they must overcome a shocking betrayal and a two-month lockout. Lawyers will battle in back rooms, Occupy Wall Street protesters will take over the restaurant, and a picket line will divide the neighborhood. If they can win a contract, it will set a historic precedent for low-wage workers across the country. But whatever happens, Mahoma and his coworkers will never be exploited again.”

Q&A with Robin Blotnick, Director of The Hand That Feeds

Q). One of the things I’ve read about Mahoma and The Hand That Feeds was the importance of education. Can you describe what transformations you saw in Mahoma and his co-workers when they were educated about their rights? What actions did they take based on this newfound knowledge?

A). Laundry Workers Center (LWC), the volunteer labor group that organized the 63rd Street Hot & Crusty, is unusually devoted to finding and training worker-leaders. They don’t just pay lip service to the idea, they actually made Mahoma co-director of their organization while he was still working full-time as a deli man. From the beginning, LWC recognized leadership qualities in Mahoma that others might have missed because he was quiet and soft-spoken, and they gave him intensive training in how to lead his own labor campaign.

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Panel Discussion following the screening of The Hand That Feeds at NWCC. From left to right: Robin Blotnick, Director; Julie Sabo, a member of United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 919; Dr. Gregory Jackson, 4Cs Organizer

The impression I got was that most of the Hot & Crusty workers already knew that the way they were being treated was wrong, and they were angry about it. But the organizers taught them that undocumented immigrant workers have rights under US labor law and that something can actually be done about it. After many intense late night house visits, a small group of them found the courage to join together and act.

Q). Without giving away any spoilers, can you tell me a little bit about the struggle that Mahoma and his co-workers faced after deciding to organize?

A). It quickly became clear that management wasn’t going to concede anything without a fight. At first the manager threatened to report the workers to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Then there were visits from a mysterious anti-union consultant who claimed to work for the Department of Labor. The management challenged the formation of the union with every legal method they could find, they closely monitored surveillance footage looking for excuses to fire the leaders, and there were many attempts to bribe the workers, some of them successful. But the biggest challenge came in the summer of 2012, when the management announced they were closing the location and laying off the entire workforce. This is a classic union avoidance tactic for small shops like this, and there’s very little workers can do about it, legally speaking.

But this battle was going to be waged in the streets not the courtrooms, and it was at this point in the story that things really started to heat up.

Q). The Hand That Feeds film focuses on low wage workers in the food industry, but higher education has also seen a dramatic increase in the reliance on low wage workers – adjunct or part-time faculty. SEIU has done research to show that 25% of part-time professors and their families nationwide are in enrolled in one or more public assistance programs, and in Connecticut, 15% of adjunct faculty are near or below poverty. What inspiration do you think our part-time faculty members, many of whom are struggling to piece together a full-time job from part-time work, will find in this film? Are there any lessons that you think Mahoma would share with the adjunct faculty?

A). Those numbers are shocking. It seems like higher education is becoming more and more like the food industry these days, with management taking the “low road” of cutting costs on the backs of those who make the organization run. If there’s anything this film shows, it’s that workers from all sectors should stick together. The Hot & Crusty workers couldn’t have achieved what they did without reaching out a very diverse group of people, including grad students, adjunct professors and other university faculty. One day I was surprised to see the media professor who first taught me documentary production (at nearby Hunter College) marching on the Hot & Crusty picket line. Helping these deli workers wasn’t just some philanthropic cause for these “white collar” professors, they were fighting their own union battle on the campus and they were there as an expression of true solidarity.

I would say the first lesson from Mahoma’s story is to lean on your friends and also don’t be afraid to make enemies. This campaign showed that aggressive, militant tactics, including negative publicity, sit down strikes and civil disobedience can be effective even in very small scale struggles.

Another lesson is to not be discouraged by setbacks, which are inevitable. And third, it’s important to keep labor organizations democratic. Judging from this story, the best way to keep up the morale of the rank and file is to have the rank and file lead their own campaigns.

For more information, go to www.thehandthatfeedsfilm.com.

June 28th, 2016

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There have been an amazing number of milestones for the faculty movement across the country this Spring Semester. So far in 2016, thousands of faculty members at 10 colleges and universities have voted to join SEIU. Ten schools or university systems have settled or ratified first union contracts this Spring. These new agreements raise wages and solidify job security in higher education.

Although the semester is coming to an end, faculty at half a dozen schools have active union campaigns that will continue to build over the summer.

Highlights:

  • Over 10 colleges and universities have voted yes to joining SEIU in spring 2016!

    Faculty at the following schools have voted to join SEIU so far this year: Saint Louis University, Wells College, Loyola University Chicago, Notre Dame de Namur University (Tenured and Contingent), Ithaca College (Full-time), University of Southern California, St. Charles Community College, Duke University, Boston University (Full-time), Holy Names University.

  • Several university faculty campaigns have filed, including: St. Martin’s University, McDaniel College, and Hillsborough Community College. The faculty at the University of Minnesota also filed this semester and are hoping to vote in the fall.
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    4Cs delegate and part-time faculty member at MCC (and other colleges), John Mueller is pictured participating in Fight for $15! John’s image was used by SEIU for the 2016 April 14th campaign.

    On April 14, 2016 – the eve of Tax Day – faculty joined the Fight for $15 movement in the U.S. and around the globe to hold McDonald’s, other corporations and their own colleges accountable. (The 4Cs also participated in these actions locally!)

  • Faculty across the country have set dramatically higher standards in first contracts, planting strong roots for industry-wide change in a short time. So far this semester, faculty at Boston University, Northeastern University, Washington University in St. Louis, Dominican University, St. Mary’s College, Mills College, the College of St. Rose, Hamline University, Antioch University Seattle, and the California Faculty Association have come to agreements or ratified contracts.
  • Faculty have won significant contract victories, and the growing attention paid to their work has led to impactful coverage in USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and the National Catholic Reporter.

Faculty across America are showing the country that when people stick together and take action, they win. These contracts include many important victories for faculty at individual campuses, across metro areas and are helping to turn around the trends that have marginalized the profession: low pay, job insecurity, and a lack of respect and a faculty voice in higher education. Here are a few significant contract wins this semester:

Campaign at the University of Southern California

  • In a new agreement, full-time and part-time members of the California Faculty Association will receive at least a 10.5 percent raise within the next three academic years.
  • At Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., SEIU faculty secured a raise for all part-time faculty – ranging from a 15 to 30 percent increase.
  • Adjuncts at the College of St. Rose secured 24 percent to 35 percent increases in pay over three years.
  • Washington University in St. Louis, faculty will receive a 26 percent raise over the next four academic years. Individual faculty members will also receive $750 for classes that are canceled within seven days before the first scheduled class meeting.
  • At Antioch University Seattle, full-time and part-time faculty protected their health care insurance, won monthly transportation benefits, and defined workload expectations within their contract to keep faculty from becoming overworked.
  • As part of a new contract, Dominican University will establish a $40,000 professional development fund for part-time faculty. Dominican University adjunct compensation will be pegged to 80% of a tenure-track associate professor salary by the end of their 3-year contract.

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This blog post was edited slightly with permission from facultyforward.org. 

June 24th, 2016

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Summer

It’s summertime! It may not be officially summer until June 20, but before I left for the SEIU Convention at the end of May (read about that trip here), I was freezing while watching my son’s baseball games. I came back from Detroit to 90-degree weather, flowers in full bloom, and the end of Little League in sight.

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My son pitching during a particularly rainy and cold Little League game. This was mid-May, but it felt like February.

For many of us at the community colleges, the summer begins after graduation. Full and part-time faculty may depart for the summer to work on research or publications, or they may remain on campus to teach or work alternate summer jobs. Tasks at the colleges for the full and part-time staff may shift depending on the department. Classes continue and students are still on campus, but for many of us, the summer months are a quieter time…quieter, but not necessarily less busy.

This is the case at the 4Cs office in Hartford. The phones don’t ring as frequently. There are fewer meetings. But for the 4Cs staff, quieter times are an opportunity to work on larger projects with fewer interruptions.

Some of the things that the 4Cs staff will be working on this summer:

In case you didn’t think SEIU has a sense of humor, check out the example “workplace.” If I was Homer Simpson, I would definitely vote to unionize. Mr. Burns is the worst! And in case you were wondering…yes, the database includes almost every character from The Simpsons.

In case you didn’t think SEIU has a sense of humor, check out the example “workplace.” If I was Homer Simpson, I would definitely vote to unionize. Mr. Burns is the worst! And in case you were wondering…yes, the database includes almost every character from The Simpsons.

  • A complete revamp of our website! SEIU is rolling out a new website theme and the 4Cs will be testing it soon. The new theme can be viewed on SEIU’s website.
  • Testing a new app called eJoin that will allow our organizers to be able to sign members up electronically. You will be able to sign with your fingertip right on a phone or iPad! It will also help those of us in the office to make sure your information is inputted correctly (although Kimberly is a master at handwriting interpretation).
  • Database updates including correcting information, adding legislative districts, and continuing our modernization of the data we receive from the System Office. You may hear from me asking if an email address or phone number is still correct.
  • Preparation for legislative primaries and fall elections.
  • Creating guidelines for 4Cs chapter officers.
  • Continuation of Contract Negotiations and resolution of the “pots” (read about them both here).
  • Continuing to develop stories for the media around a “Culture of Commitment” theme (see some previous stories here and here. If you have a story idea, email me).
  • For me personally, it’s also a time to ensure that completed projects are filed. (I like to keep a clean office, but I’m a person who makes piles. Summer means going through the piles, keeping and filing what I need, and getting rid of the rest).
    These are some of my piles that need to be gone through this summer. And yes, I can find the document you need immediately within this mountain of files. If you are also a piler, you know what I mean. Don’t mess with my system!

    These are some of my piles that need to be sorted through this summer. And yes, I can find the document you need immediately within this mountain of files. If you are also a piler, you know what I mean. Don’t mess with my system!

  • Also for me, lots of planning for the year ahead including creating editorial calendars for our newsletters, social media, and Congress Chronicles.

So now you know what the 4Cs is up to this summer. Let us know what you’ll be doing!! Are you traveling somewhere? Are you working on research? Are you volunteering? Are you busier in the summer at the college? Let us know what your summer plans are! Email me at ellen@th4cs.org

 

June 2nd, 2016

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Who wants to go to Detroit for four days of 8+ hours of governance meetings? Apparently I did. And you know what? I’m glad that I went!

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The moon over Windsor in Canada!

SEIU held its Convention from Saturday, May 21 through Tuesday, May 24 at the COBO center in Detroit, Michigan. (“Really? DETROIT? Why?” asked every person that I told.) However, Detroit was the perfect locale for the issues to be discussed. The SEIU Convention delved really deep into such issues as environmental justice, racial justice and immigration justice. Where better than down the road from Flint, Michigan to discuss how environmental justice can impact us? Where better than Detroit, a city with over an 85% minority population, to discuss racial justice issues? Where better than at the U.S. border to discuss immigration justice?

Further, Detroit is an important city to the Labor Movement. Detroit’s labor history began in 1818 when the Detroit Mechanics’ Society was founded. “All skilled labor in Detroit is organized into trade unions,” wrote streetcar driver Malcolm McLeod in 1901. “And through the efforts of those unions we have bettered our conditions, reduced the hours of labor, and increased wages so that we now can find time to educate ourselves and our children and take the place in society which has been denied them” (Labors Legacy, page 2).

…Providing decent working conditions, raising wages, helping end poverty. These were the kinds of dreams that have motivated many of Detroit’s labor leaders and social reformers over the years and that would eventually make Detroit one of the nation’s premiere union towns” (Labors Legacy, page 2).

SEIU Convention at Detroit's COBO Hall

SEIU Convention at Detroit’s COBO Hall. Over 3,000 SEIU members across the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico attended.

There was no better location than Detroit to renew our commitment to these issues. On these matters and other social justice issues, the SEIU Convention voted to adopt the following resolutions, among others:

  • Resolution 106A: To Win Economic Justice for Working People, We Must Win Racial Justice
  • Resolution 108A: Environmental Justice for Working People
  • Resolution 116: Equality for All Working People: Ending Discrimination Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer People
  • Resolution 107: Immigrant Justice

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In Connecticut, we have already begun working on some of these issues. The 4Cs is an active participant in the Democracy, Unity and Equality (D.U.E.) Justice coalition that brings together labor, community and faith-based groups to reduce income inequality and promote democracy. D.U.E. Justice’s agenda includes good jobs and fair wages; universal access to quality public education; a vibrant and fairly funded public sector; democracy in our state and in our work places; and racial, gender, and ethnic justice. We have actively supported CT Student 4 a Dream for undocumented students to be able to access financial aid at our colleges.

After attending the Convention in Detroit, I returned energized and with a renewed commitment towards progress on these issues and more! I hope you will join the 4Cs in our commitment to justice issues.

Bryan Bonina (left) and Lisa Calabrese (right) at the Convention

Bryan Bonina (left) and Lisa Calabrese (right) at the Convention

Joining me for their first convention were Lisa Calabrese, NVCC Chapter Officer for CCPs; Kimberly Small, Office Manager; and Greg Jackson, Internal Organizer. Returning to the convention were Bryan Bonina, 4Cs President and Steve Krevisky, 4Cs Secretary. Our Political Organizer, Bob Fernandez, was also invited as a guest of SEIU to speak on student debt.

And while Detroit wouldn’t make my top ten list of cities to visit, it had some cool areas. Belle Island in the river between Detroit and Canada seems like a fun place to spend a warm, summer day either in one of the many parks, playgrounds, beach or aquarium. Eastern Market on the weekends is bustling with local food merchants and artisans. Riverwalk, right outside of the COBO center, was a great walk along the river with a view of Canada, and it went right past the Michigan Labor Legacy Landmark, “Transcending,” a permanent reminder of the importance of labor in Detroit – a reminder of what we can achieve if we all work towards progress.

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Michigan Labor Legacy Landmark: “Transcending”

May 27th, 2016

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Please read Negotiations News, Issue 5 for the latest on contract negotiations.

May 18th, 2016

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The 4Cs will be holding a Membership Conference on Saturday, April 30 at Manchester Community College. Please see the tentative schedule that follows, which is based on the results of a membership conference survey. Register here!

Tentative Schedule (subject to change)
8:30am: Registration/Breakfast

9:00am: Welcome & Keynote Speaker

10:30:11:20: Concurrent Sessions A (choose 1)
1. Thinking about Retirement for Full-Timers
2. What Other Chapters Have Won and How: New England & New York
3. Contract 101 for Part-Timers, including Seniority Pool 

11:30-12:20: Concurrent Sessions B (choose 1)
1. Thinking about Retirement for Part-Timers
2. Contract 101 for Full-Timers
3. Conflict Mediation 

12:30-1:25: Lunch & Information Fair 

Visit our information tables to ask questions and pick up information about our contract, retirement, and more! 

1:30-2:20: Concurrent Sessions C (choose 1)
1. Being Active in the Political Process
2. Promotion & Tenure
3. Diversity on our Campuses: What are our needs?

2:30-3:20: Wrap Up & Discussion

Time: Saturday, April 30, 2016 8:30 AM – 3:30 PM EDT

Host: The Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges (4Cs)

Contact Phone: 860.296.5172

Location: Manchester Community College (Manchester, CT), 60 Bidwell St,,Manchester, CT 06040 

Directions: Manchester Community College is conveniently located about 10 miles west of Hartford, off of I-384.

April 5th, 2016

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Read about the latest in part-time and full-time negotiations here.

April 5th, 2016

Posted In: Negotiations

Click here to read the latest issue of negotiations news.

March 15th, 2016

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4CsLegislative

It is imperative that we make our voices heard to protect students and working people throughout the state of Connecticut. Though the fiscal crisis impacts all Connecticut residents, state workers have been singled out by Governor Malloy and the Legislature to absorb the cuts. 

On March 31, the 4Cs and AFT memberships, students, and other community college supporters will go to the Legislative Office Building in Hartford to let our elected representatives know that Connecticut’s community colleges are essential to the future of the state. 

Date: Thursday, March 31
Location: Legislative Office Building
Time: 10am-3pm

Register to attend here! Encourage colleagues, students, and community members to attend. If you cannot attend, please be sure to sign the postcard.

March 12th, 2016

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Union Plus Car Rental Discounts

March 11th, 2016

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