Year of Successes Points to Next Efforts

News Statement
For immediate release — For more information
Local President Bret Schulte

June 13, 2021 — As the 2020-2021 academic year closes, the UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 is seeing record growth after securing historic victories for faculty, staff and students at the University of Arkansas. Collective action led by Local 965 is fundamentally improving the lives of employees at the University of Arkansas by promoting prosperity, equity, transparency and employee choice. As a result, the local has seen membership increase about 60 percent since a revival of interest began in 2017.

Entering the school term, university Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz agreed to meet the demands of the local’s two-year campaign for a “living wage” of a minimum $30,000 a year for all UA employees. The campaign included op-ed commentaries, media appearances, demonstrations and petition gathering at events such as farmers’ markets and UA football games in support of higher wages, all the while supporting the campus food pantry that served food-insecure employees and students.

“This is a long overdue and desperately needed raise for many UA employees,” said Bret Schulte, 965 president. “We believe this decision shows the power of coming together and magnifying our voices until we are heard.”

The work of Local 965 received prominent attention from its parent organization, the National Education Association, the country’s largest union at more than 2 million members. The union’s NEA Today magazine covered the successful Living Wage Campaign strategies deployed by the Local 965, and NEA President Becky Pringle congratulated the Local 965 during her opening address to the 2021 Higher Education Conference, where she offered it as a model of what is possible for NEA locals across the country.

When the chancellor initially declined to offer a pro-rated living wage of $20,000 per 9-month term to graduate teaching and research assistants, the 965 turned its focus to helping the grad students organize by providing funds for promotional material, contributing to strategy sessions and authoring a resolution endorsing the raise. The resolution, written by Local 965 Vice President Mike Pierce, was submitted to the Faculty Senate then overwhelmingly passed in March.

In May, the administration agreed to a raise — another victory as the result of pressure applied by collective action. While the raise from an average of did not reach the threshold of $20k, the UA increased its minimum stipends from $9,387 to $11,250 for the school year. The Local 965 continues to work with graduate students on their fight.

“The university is moving in the right direction,” said Pierce. “but more work needs to be done. $1,500 a month is not enough when the Graduate School’s own data shows that it costs at least $2,100 a month for a single person to live in Fayetteville.” 

In the midst of the summer 2020 Black Lives Matter protests across the country, Pierce, an associate professor of history, brought to the attention of the public the damning history of Gov. Charles Brough for whom a dining hall on campus is named. In a press release soon reposted by the Arkansas Times, Pierce recounted Brough’s role as a cheerleader and and supporter of the what came to be called the Elaine Race Massacre of 1919, in which an estimated 150 to 400 Blacks were killed by white mobs in Phillips County.

Pierce’s report launched the first-ever examination of that governor’s namesake on campus, Brough Commons. When a commission was established to examine the race record of Sen. J. William Fulbright, the university included a review of Gov. Brough. Pierce served on the committee and agreed with its recommendations that the men should not be honored with namesakes on campus. Separately, Pierce’s research on labor and race caught the attention of the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the civil rights leader who cited Pierce by name in the conclusion of the NEA Leadership Summit last spring.

Other accomplishments from the Local 965 this July-through-June fiscal year: 

  • Local 965 president Bret Schulte introduced two Faculty Senate resolutions to protect worker safety at the UA: One endorsing employee choice for remote work at the outbreak of the COVID pandemic, and the other requesting an air audit of all HVAC systems on campus to ensure they were outfitted with proper MERV-13 filters and increased ventilation. Both resolutions passed. 
  • Local 965 President Bret Schulte and Mike Pierce worked with LGBTQ groups across campus — including staff, faculty and employees — to create concrete recommendations to make campus a safe and more supportive space for the trans community in the wake of state legislation hostile to their health and well-being. The resolution passed faculty senate overwhelmingly and met a need for such recommendations expressed by UA’s central administration. 
  • The Local 965 stood in solidarity in March with Amazon workers seeking to unionize in Alabama at a protest outside the Fayetteville Whole Foods, also owned by Amazon. 
  • The Local 965 organized a campaign to dissuade state legislators from stifling public employee unions that allowed the termination of state employees who engage in labor activity under the umbrella of collective bargaining. The bill, however, passed both chambers and the governor signed it into law.

Barber Notes Research of 965 Official

During the 2021 Leadership Summit of the National Education Association last March, a prominent civil rights leader quoted the scholarship of 965 Vice President Mike Pierce.

The concluding keynote address of the NEA conference was delivered by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II. His speech, perhaps because he delivered it on a Sunday morning, moved in moments to a magnificent sermon on the importance and interconnectedness of education, organized labor and race.

Rev. Barber starts at 14:55, and the video link above should start at that point. He starts the topic that references Mike around 31:55 and name-drops our vice president about 32:30.* The address as well as the conference programs overall were conducted online on Zoom due to the coronavirus pandemic.

More recently, Mike, an associate professor of history with a Ph.D. from Ohio State University, saw his Nelson Hackett Project accepted into the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program of the National Parks Service, detailed in an article from the campus’s University Relations:

“In 1841, Hackett escaped enslavement in the frontier town of Fayetteville and fled to Canada, where he thought his freedom was secure. Despite opposition, he was extradited from Canada, becoming the first and only freedom seeker that Canada returned to bondage in the United States.”

Mike’s academic research considers aspects of the intersection of race and labor.

*While we’ve set the video to start with the Rev. Barber’s address, the tape begins with a prerecorded NEA statement then remarks from Takeru Nagayoshi, 2020 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, followed by comments by the national union’s secretary-treasurer, Noel Candelaria, who introduces Barber. Following the minister, NEA Vice President Princess R. Moss and President Becky Pringle close the conference. All have value.

More Progress, Faster, on UA Assault Policies, Enforcement

Statement of the board of UA-Fayetteville Education Association, Local 965, April 30, 2021

We the Workers of Local 965 support Gillian Gullett, Sophie Hill and all their compatriots in calling for meaningful structural changes at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, in the Title IX offices and in the campus at large, in order to better cultivate a culture of zero tolerance of sexual violence and harassment, of education in the ethics and responsibility of consent and bodily autonomy, and of restorative justice for survivors of sexual assault.

We applaud their achievement in getting the Chancellor to agree to the five demands put forward in the petition brought by Gullett and other signees. We also recognize that there is much more work to be done, that the ills of sexual harassment and assault are deeply imbricated with systems, attitudes, and procedures that cultivate toxic cultures where sexual assault and harassment are trivialized, informed consent is misunderstood or not understood at all, and where survivors of assault are less likely to be believed. These problems are bigger than the University of Arkansas, but that does not excuse University administrators, faculty, staff, and students from taking responsibility to bring about the cultural seachanges so desperately needed for the liberation of human beings from the evil of sexual violence.

Therefore, recognizing that the culture of violence and injustice at UA Fayetteville is not unique to our Northwest Arkansas campus, we hereby call on University of Arkansas System President Don Bobbit, the Board of Trustees and all UA System chancellors to implement changes in a similar vein at every institution through the UA System. We furthermore call on them to conduct critical evaluations of how to best fit these solutions for their given situation, and to produce roadmaps to implement actionable, concrete solutions. We ask that these evaluations, their results, and implementation plans be conducted, completed, reviewed and published by the beginning of the Fall 2021 semester.

We furthermore ask that the University Administration commit itself to the principles of restorative justice in crafting and carrying out its processes for investigating, issuing, and appealing charges of sexual violence, such that they are structured so as to be resistant to bad-faith litigation on the part of the guilty party, and that survivors of sexual violence are preferentially consulted at all parts of the development of such an appeals process to ensure that the new procedures are not only legal, but are effective aspects of the process of individual and community healing. (This article from the Canadian Department of Justice includes a summary exposition from the authors of the original article on how these principles may look in practice.)

We ask the Chancellor and the incoming Title IX Coordinator to coordinate a review of all previous assault proceedings in which the respondent was found guilty of the charges and allowed to remain enrolled, employed or otherwise affiliated with the University. If the statute of limitations for the committed offense has not expired, and the guilty party is still affiliated with the University, we ask that the guilty party be placed on probation pending termination.

Flyer for April 30, 2021, campus rally over sexual assault policies and actions

We furthermore commend the organizers of the Noon- 3 p.m. Friday, April 30, 2021, demonstration in front of Old Main, which individual members of Local 965 plan to attend.

News Articles

Will Honor Demands to Aid Assault Survivors, UA SaysNorthwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 29, 2021 (possible subscription paywall)

UA Graduate and Sexual Assault Survivor Calls for Campus Change With Petition —Arkansas Traveler, April 28, 2021

Petition Demands UA Changes to Aid Assault SurvivorsNorthwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 27, 2021 (possible subscription paywall)

Sexual Assault Survivor Speaks Out about Outrage to $20,000 Settlement between UA, Former Student — KHBS-TV/KHOG-TV, April 27, 2021

University of Arkansas Pays $20,000 Settlement to Former Student Accused of Sexual Assault — KNWA-TV/KFTA-TV, April 22, 2021

Supporting Workers at Amazon, its Affiliates

The Solidarity with Amazon Workers Rally

Members of Local 965 joined with area progressives March 20 to support workers at the Bessemer, Alabama, Amazon facilities to join a union to boost their wages to that of similar workers in the area and to improve work conditions.

  • Red-shirted 965 members Hershel Hartford, Bret Schulte, Mike Pierce, Tricia Starks and Geoff Brock await Ted Swedenburg to shoot a photo at the Solidarity with Amazon Workers rally March 20, 2021, outside the Fayetteville Whole Foods Market.
  • Hershel Hartford, Bret Schulte, Geoff Brock, Ted Swedenburg and Ben Pollock discuss Local 965 business at the Solidarity with Amazon Workers rally March 20, 2021, outside the Fayetteville Whole Foods Market.
  • Red-shirted 965 members Ben Pollock, Tricia Starks and Geoff Brock join the Solidarity with Amazon Workers rally March 20, 2021, outside the Fayetteville Whole Foods Market.
  • Mike Pierce, Bret Schulte and Tricia Starks hold the Local 965 banner at the Solidarity with Amazon Workers rally March 20, 2021, outside the Fayetteville Whole Foods Market.

Announcement of rally, March 19, 2021

We of UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 decided at our monthly membership meeting March 18 to actively support union organizing efforts at the Amazon facilities in Bessemer, Alabama. Specifically, we are asking our members and supporters to attend — safely, with masks and social-distancing — a rally outside the Fayetteville Whole Foods Market 1:30-3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 20, 2021. March 20 will also represent U.N. World Day Against Racism.

We suggest that you don your red 965 T-shirt if you have one, otherwise any red shirt, for a bit of visual solidarity. The local event’s organizers created a Facebook event with details. The national facilitator is Support Alabama Amazon Union.

For background information, “Amazon, Union Battle for Undecided Workers in High-Stakes Vote” from the Voice of America is pretty comprehensive with no paywall.

This is Collective Action.

Contact Legislators to Block Stifling of Public Employee Unions

Updates: Tuesday and Wednesday, March 9-10, 2021

A new bill in the Arkansas Legislature threatens to choke public employee unions. We must rally by calling representatives to oppose it.

Senate Bill 341 of 2021 (PDF of draft) allows the termination of any state employee who engages in any labor activity while making collective bargaining illegal for those employees in Arkansas. That would include University of Arkansas faculty and staff.

It passed in a Senate floor vote Tuesday afternoon 24-6 (with 3 not voting, 1 voting present and 1 excused). It cleared committee with a unanimous vote Monday. 

The debate is detailed at the Wednesday article “Senate OKs Union Restriction – Public-Employee Collective Bargaining Ban Goes to House” in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (possible subscription firewall). (Monitor progress of bill.)

Later Tuesday, the state House sent the bill to its Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor for deliberation.

Our lobbyists in Little Rock are fighting this, but we need you to contact legislators to oppose Sen. Bob Ballinger’s bill. It is sponsored in the House by Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville.

From the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s reportage Tuesday (subject to subscription firewall, alternate edition): 

“They can have a union. They have their association, but as far as collective bargaining, we are prohibiting it from a policy standpoint as a state.”

Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark

We advise calling or emailing your own district representative immediately. Find your rep’s name and district by entering your home’s street address. This will provide you contact information.

(For future reference, ID your state senator and Senate district number with your address at Senator Search.)

Update March 23, 2021 — The Arkansas House passed SB 341 on March 22, 62-22. “Gov. Asa Hutchinson said through a spokeswoman Monday that he would sign the bill in its current form if it reaches his desk,” the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported in “House OKs Bill to Bar Collective Bargaining.” Only one House member spoke against the bill on the floor.

UA-Fayetteville Education Association/Local 965 enjoys clear and cordial relations with the university’s administration as well as with the overall U of A System. Arkansas already has sufficient if not stringent laws governing organized labor. The potential and the implications of this unneeded proposed legislation, however, are enormous for public employees and the students and citizens whom they serve.

“Educators should be respected, not attacked.”

Tracey-Ann Nelson, executive director of the Arkansas Education Association, quoted by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

According to the newspaper, Nelson told the Senate committee Monday that SB 341 “directly targets our educators who have shown up every single day at schools and in every way possible teaching students, transporting them and serving them meals since the beginning of the pandemic, knowing they are putting themselves and their families at risk.”