Bargaining for the Common Good in Higher Education Convening
Thursday, Mar 01, 2018

In late February 2018, the "Bargaining for the Common Good in Higher Education Convening” brought together over 200 labor, community and racial justice leaders representing 50 campuses across the country to strategize about common good bargaining and organizing. The convening included sessions about the theory and strategy of how to build the power to win and transform our campaigns into broader community fights, and how to wage inspiring common good campaigns that connect workers more deeply to their union and increase membership in preparation for the Janus Decision. Cohorts of union, community, and student leaders discussed a shared vision for building long-term community-labor partnerships that can fight for common good demands. State and university cohorts made concrete plans for working together locally, and incorporating elements of common good work in their campaigns.  

Kavitha Iyengar from UAW 2865, the graduate employee organization in the University of California system said, “I thought the convening thoughtfully brought together higher ed unions and community groups to help us see how powerful it can be when we work together in a transformative way. This is going to change how we do our work together when we go back to California, and how we approach not only contract negotiations but our long-term strategy to build power.”

Bargaining for the Common Good is an innovative organizing approach where unions use contract fights as an opportunity to organize local stakeholders around a set of demands that benefit not just the bargaining unit, but also the wider community as a whole. In these campaigns, labor and community are partners who work together to build public support for revenue and other solutions that will allow us to rebuild our communities, adequately fund public services, and protect quality middle class public and private sector jobs.

Higher Education is an ideal stage for Bargaining for the Common Good campaigns. Colleges and universities act as ‘anchor’ institutions in our communities, often playing an outsized role in the local economy. Advocating for common sense reforms that improve our universities and communities draws the backing of crucial stakeholders such as students, faculty, staff, and the many community and racial justice groups that focus on the university’s impact in the local community.

Over the three days of the convening, participants learned and strategized about how to work together effectively to run these types of campaigns. The convening included sessions on identifying and running common good campaigns, Wall Street’s growing influence in higher education, partnering effectively with community, student, and racial justice groups, and breakout sessions for local cohorts to plan their campaigns. Jennie Shanker from Temple Association of University Professors (AFT) said, “The convening was terrific, and I’m leaving with both new tools to run common good campaigns, and a new network of labor and community partners to work with in Philadelphia.” 

Anneta Argyres from the Massachusetts Teachers Association and Juan Pablo Blanco from the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts said, “The conference was exciting and inspiring. We learned what it means to go on the offensive, how to use bargaining to advance community demands, and how to build shared vision between workers, communities and students. It was a great first step towards creating sustainable common good campaigns between partners, and helped us understand the nuts and bolts of how it works in actual bargaining. We think the emphasis on community engagement and ownership of campaigns was incredibly important.”

Many individuals, unions, and associations posted their enthusiasm at the Bargaining for the Common Good Higher Education Convening to Twitter. Partner organization Bargaining for the Common Good posted their own synopsis of the convening. AFT posted their own recap to the event.  Both attendees, facilitators, coaches, and presenters look forward to building a stronger movement that can truly fight for the common good. 

At the end of the convening, participant Tom Steel from Teamsters Local 2010 exclaimed, "I dreamed about this conference for weeks, imagining everything that it could be. The reality surpassed my wildest dreams and has reinvigorated my fight for the working class!"