Thursday, August 27, 2009

Labor Secretary on NPR sidesteps part timer question

As I was leaving one of my two jobs the other day, I turned on NPR and heard Labor Secretary Hilda Solis on some NPR show taking calls. The first one I heard was from a part timer who laid out our problems pretty well: paid far less than full time colleagues, often no get no benefits, the lessened availability to students as we zip from campus to campus to patch together enough to survive, and the irony of all that given how important the president has said community colleges are. He also noted that a lot of the stimulus money went to one time building projects instead of persistent abuses like this.

Her answer was disturbing. She hemmed and hawed a lot and said this was primarily a state issue, and their job was mostly to insure that contracts were enforced. She went on to say it would be tough to fix issues like this because of the current budget crisis.

Even the host of the show said their would was little in her answer that would comfort the person asking the question.

While Solis is obviously better than the Bush secretary of labor who called teachers' unions terrorists, her answer is unacceptable for a number of reasons.

For one, the federal government intervenes in education at the state level all the time. It forced the steaming pile of excrement No Child Left Behind on K-12 schools, and more admirably, sets anti-discrimination conditions on colleges that take federal money. It doesn't take too much creativity to see how they could set minimum academic labor standards on colleges and universities.

I would have some sympathy for the budget argument if the first thing the Obama administration had done WASN'T giving nearly a trillion dollars to people on Wall Street who caused more economic harm than any terrorists could in their wildest dreams. He just recently reappointed Ben Bernanke who gave trillions more to the same crooks and refused to tell Congress how much he gave to which ones.

Wall Street hurts people on purpose to further enrich a very, very few. We do our jobs in hope that those we serve will be better citizens and better able to support their families. It is offensive for a supposedly Democratic administration to say they can do nothing for us while they give more than enough to fix our problems to sociopathic trust fund babies on Wall Street who spend the money on bonuses and parties and squirrel the rest away in offshore accounts.

audio of question & her answer


CONAN: We're speaking with the secretary of labor, Hilda Solis. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And this email from Betsy(ph) in Cape Cod: I'm a part-time community college faculty member. We earn a small fraction of the salary our full-time colleagues earn for doing the same job, and many of us get no benefits. The stimulus money that was supposed to be going to keep jobs is frequently going instead to one-time capital projects. Even those of us who Re unionized - and we are the minority - are unable in the main to strike so there is very little we can do during contract negotiations. If educating people is as important as the president said, is strengthening faculty salaries, benefits and job security part of your agenda? If so, how do you propose to do it?

Sec. SOLIS: Wow. That's a big challenge. But it's one that I understand well as a former trustee of a community college and understand well the challenges, because many states by the way, who provide most of the bulk of support for funding for community colleges, their revenue has gone down. So, I know even in my own state of California many people have been pink-slipped, laid off. They've had to reduce class size and actually turn away a number of students that want to enroll in the fall, or postpone their education. So, I understand there has to be a need to help provide assistance and leadership for community colleges. And just to give you an idea, most of the training money that DOL is putting out - a lot of it will be going in partnership with community colleges. So, there will be an opportunity to hire up, to bring in more faculty and to also expand the services that community colleges offer because they are by and large the people that entertain the most number of people who go into a higher education.

CONAN: I didn't hear a lot in there that would make her happier about the conditions in which she works.

Sec. SOLIS: A lot of - I think a lot of that - certainly we want to make sure that contracts are respected, collective bargaining agreements. There's always been an issue with respect to different bargaining groups, or groups that are represented in bargaining groups, that want to be a part of that. So, I think the continuance of involvement on the part of part-time faculty members I think is a legitimate issue and should be looked at. Because as it stands, you also find that that faculty member is not as inclined to stay committed to those groups of students that they do teach because they're off to different - other -what they call, freeway traveling or teaching…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Sec. SOLIS: …because they're going to find wherever they can get their salary paid. And it's unfortunate that that's what it's kind of turned to. I hope that we could end that in some way. But right now with the recession being what it is, I think it's going to be difficult.

Talk of the Nation, Aug. 25, 2009