President Hershel Hartford threw a party for Local 965 members and friends, and many dropped by for conversation, hamburgers, hot dogs, cold drinks and sides. It was UA-Fayetteville Education Association’s first-in-a-loooooong-while May Day / Workers Day picnic. We met at Fayetteville’s Veterans Memorial Park.
While chatting was generally casual, Hershel formally welcomed the diners and explained the intent, that in-person dialogue is more effective and more fun than the panedemic era’s email, text and video-chat. He noted that plans are to host a similar cook-out in the fall, on Labor Day naturally, as well as continuing well into the future.
Also speaking was a longtime supporter state Rep. Denise Firmin Garner, D-Dist. 84. Her husband, Hershey Garner, M.D., later completed our membership application.
Denise is known for being a shutterbug at events such as ours, and we are proud to showcase her skills here. We are grateful.
The program in the Ziegler Reception Room of the Fayetteville Public Library began with perhaps the newest labor movement, that of Starbucks Coffee employees. Dylan Hartsfield began organizing employees of the cafe on Wedington Drive in February 2022. Since its success and that of a Starbucks on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Dylan has become an organizer with the overall Starbucks Workers United, a division of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Walter Hinojosa, president of the Northwest Arkansas Labor Council, emceed while Hershel Hartford, president of UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965, introduced the program. These two groups sponsored the teach-in.
Magaly Licolli, executive director and co-founder of the regional poultry worker organization Venceremos said her group is chiefly concerned with a “search for solutions” on worker safety matters. As far as chicken growing and processing, any sort of safety net set up by government is full of tangles and tears, where she cited chemical emissions and denial especially of the dangers of Covid especially in the pandemic’s early months.
Annie B. Smith, professor, University of Arkansas School of Law, outlined the basics of federal law on unions as well as the limits state laws sets, both positive and negative. Worker’s compensation law, for example covers an employee injured due to their own miscalculation, but “Workers generally do not have a right to breaks” (they’re just a common perk).
Pete Reagan, district field service representative for the 14th District (Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee), International Association of Fire Fighters , gave a brief history of the Fayetteville local that began in the late 1970s. Its latest concern is the incorporation of PFAs (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in their gear to repel oil and water and prevent mold but is a carcinogen. “Our own gear is killing us.”
Rick Halford, regional political director of Southern States Millwright Regional Council discussed the close relationship between child labor and human trafficking in light of the Arkansas legislature with Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ signature revoked state law pertaining to children working, though federal laws remain in effect.
Closing out the program was Jessica Akers Hughes, president, Arkansas AFL-CIO. She sees the governments of a number of states trying to divide workers, a common tactic that in recent years uses gender, sexuality, race. “If we didn’t have power, they wouldn’t be trying to silence us,” she said.
NEA President Becky Pringle in her welcome said a major goal is to re-establish public education, including public higher education, as a common good for the country, adding “We are the ancestors of future generations.”
Local 965 President Hershel Hartford and Vice President Ben Pollock traveled to San Jose, California, for the March 17-19 meeting. Because the two represented the state, the Arkansas Education Association picked up their air fare and the NEA their hotel. No money from the Local treasury was needed.
Here are some highlights:
Two leaders of the Michigan State University chapter noted their strategy is to continually focus on both recruiting and retaining union members. Their meetings are best attended when on Zoom and when held during a weekday lunch hour, as “it’s hard to get people to attend in person or online after work.” They also give away lots of logo souvenirs, noting that desktop items, often with their slogan “Stronger Together,” seem to be most effective.
NEA Senior Digital Strategist Justin Conley had dozens of tips. Use social media to “take an action” or “share a message,” noting that “authenticity is the secret sauce.”
Still images and videos remain important in sharing the message or telling a story, the “TikTok-ization” of digital messaging, he said. But videos shouldn’t be longer than a minute. Always set the automatic closed-captioning on videos as people often don’t have their volume up.
Most of Justin’s knowledge comes from his observing how the apps’ algorithms seem to work. Be mindful those change periodically, he said. Algorithms are to help us, help the companies make money but also to thwart competitors (using hashtags on Facebook tells it you probably copied over a Twitter tweet so that pushes the post down). YouTube has come to function as a social media outlet so it should be used as that in sharing information.
Doug Hurst of St. Louis Community College teaches communications skills there. His previous career as a criminal defense lawyer gave his hour a unique spin. As a union leader, Doug reminded us: “We are always organizing.” He noted with examples and exercises how unreliable perceptions and memories are, and that “communicators can influence but not control perceptions of others.”
Gary Rhoades, a professor of higher education at the University of Arizona as well as a union leader there, discussed strategies for collective action. The main strategy against us is “divide and conquer” using categories of employees to separate from our goals faculty from support professions from graduate student employees. Gary recommends forming alliances with students and campus media as well as the region’s political leaders and other unions.
The closing speaker Sunday morning was U.S. Rep. Katie Porter, D-California. She’s a former professor and known in recent years for piercing, well-prepared questions at hearings. Porter noted, “Nothing prepares you (in teaching and lecturing experiences) for dealing with a corporate blowhard or incompetent government official in Congress.” Yet she noted to us, “Every voice matters” no matter how soft and that “education is a public good that should be publicly funded.”
Anyone with a job can relate to widespread problems that continue here in Northwest Arkansas as well: Economic inequality, low wages, persistence of poverty especially among children, and the growing marginalization of working people in public life.
An afternoon of programming to address such issues is being set up for the Ozarks.
The teach-in is an informal forum developed in the mid-1960s to educate on a complex contemporary topic.
“The Teach-In is inspired not only by the activism that we are seeing throughout the nation with teachers, nurses and Amazon workers but also by what people are already doing here in Northwest Arkansas,” co-organizer Michael Pierce said. “Starbucks workers, some of the poultry workers, and many others are starting to stand up for worker rights, better wages and improved conditions.”
“The goal,” Pierce said, “is to bring together working people who want to make their jobs better — to put them in touch with like-minded people, to provide them with tools and access to resources, to hear about successes, and to provide a sense of belonging.”
The Northwest Arkansas Labor Spring Teach-In is part of a series of some 60 similar events being held on or near college and university campuses throughout the United States. Dubbed Labor Spring, these events are organized with the help of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University and the Labor and Working-Class History Association.
By Ben Pollock Vice President UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965
FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas — Local 965 was represented Saturday with three key members attending the “NWA Rally Uniting with Teachers against the LEARNS Act Scam and for the RAISE Act” on the grounds of Washington County Courthouse. Also, I spoke.
Also attending the rally were Local 965 at-large board member Chris Goering and retired at-large board member Ted Swedenburg.
The late afternoon rally Feb. 25 was to discuss and protest the LEARNS bill (Senate Bill 294), an acronym for Literacy, Empowerment, Accountability, Readiness, Networking and Safety, proposed by the new governor, Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders. LEARNS is an omnibus package to dramatically change primary and secondary education in Arkansas by incorporating recent GOP principles and talking points.
Filed late Monday the 20th, the Senate passed it by Thursday the 23rd with no amendments. It is expected to move through the House at only a slightly slower pace. The Democrats’ counterproposal, the RAISE Act, was filed Jan. 26 and is stalled.
Hours earlier while painting placards, Billy Cook, vice president of the Washington County Democrats, asked me to be a speaker. Cook had quickly organized this rally and another for Sunday at the courthouse in Bentonville. Waiting even another week obviously could be too late.
I declined because UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965, by serving higher ed employees is not directly affected by Sanders’ proposals. Cook asked me to reconsider, saying, “We’re in Fayetteville. The only person from Fayetteville speaking is Greg Leding.”
The District 30 Democratic senator was to be the keynote. I then relented because the Republican measures on reflection have a strong but indirect impact on postsecondary education. Learning my spot was to be third of some six speakers, I jotted key points on a card.
Leding explained to the crowd that Sanders’ omnibus bill has good points like dramatic teacher salary increases and support for improved learning standards, sore spots like vouchers of public money for charter or private schools or homeschooling, and near zilch on funding it all. He admitted its momentum was strong and asked the crowd of some three dozen to tell friends to contact their legislators.
The second speaker was Corrie Tucker, president of the Springdale Education Association of K-12 public school teachers and support staff. The first-grade teacher detailed key elements of the bill from the points of view of educators, parents and schoolchildren.
My Remarks — Reconstructed from Notes
“I am Ben Pollock, vice president of UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965. Our union has been here since 1962, yes some 60 years serving the community. Representing higher ed, though, we don’t quite have a dog in this race. The other speakers are addressing elements of the bill. We do have something to say, though, because we live here, pay taxes here, and many of us working at the University of Arkansas are parents.
“Governor Sanders presented an omnibus bill, a collection of related bills. That’s why its 144 pages gets the criticism that there’s too much to carefully consider before committee and floor votes held within a week.
“From both a post-secondary education and community point of view, I see this as an omnibus bill that lies within an omnibus Regular Session. The LEARNS proposal collects many separate measures. Likewise, with strong Republican majorities in both houses, many bills outside of education have a similar interconnection. That is taking us down a risky and even dangerous road.
“First, higher education is logically next on the GOP fix-it list. Once the LEARNS Act passes, it is likely the General Assembly will follow the course of legislatures of other Southern and Midwestern states to focus on restrictions of universities and colleges. States like Florida and Iowa are looking at changing up faculty hiring as well as limits on topics that can be taught to young adults.
“A second aspect is the future of many of these young children whose education will be constricted by the LEARNS Act. Their overall achievement levels, especially in rural areas, stand to be lowered. They are the future students of the various campuses of the University of Arkansas System. Will these eventual graduates of newly created private schools and well-intentioned but lacking homeschools be able to master college-level coursework?
“This omnibus regular session has interconnected bills. That may not be immediately obvious but here is an example. One bill introduced in the House the same day as Senate Bill 294 — that’s the LEARNS Act — is House Bill 1410. It is 2 pages not 144, but it packs a wallop.
“HB 1410 has the title “Youth Hiring Act of 2023,” and it would deliver exactly what it states, an encouragement of youth under age 16 to long and unsafe working hours by repealing the state’s key Child Labor law. In HB1410, youth would no longer need a state work permit, would not need to prove parental consent, and companies would not need to verify the child’s age. These two bills can be seen as connected. Children with now poorer educations might as well work in their middle school years, as their families can see that they won’t be able to make it in college.
“Maybe these measures just happen to all be flowing through these super-majority GOP legislatures. Or maybe the Republicans have a grand plan. But we here today, including UA faculty and support staff, should consider these measures an interconnected whole, because one way or another that is how these new laws with untried ideas will impact all of us.
“It is conceivable that Sanders and the GOP are trying to set the state up as a grand experiment for America, an incubator for the radical right. I think we must keep Arkansas from turning into a socio-economic Petri dish to test these extremes for the nation.”
Essentially all local news media covered the rally. Well, the reporters did their interviews before the program and began packing up after Leding’s speech. Fortunately, they didn’t see me fumbling with the microphone. Here are their reports: