Issue # 1 / November 1, 2022
Established as directed by a motion of the Board of Representatives in August 2021, Viewpoints is a way for Members to circulate union-related material (broadly understood) to other Members who wish to receive it, which is a feature of democratic unionism. It is open to submissions from any Regular Member about matters relevant to their UMFA colleagues, including but not limited to articles on developments in the field of post-secondary education and the broader labour movement, ideas for strengthening UMFA, reviews, and resource recommendations.
An issue of Viewpoints will be produced and circulated once per month if one or more submissions have been received. Responsibility for Viewpoints lies with the Organizing and Communications Committee (OCC).
In this Issue:
- Organizing for Power by Erin Weinberg
- Summer Teaching Experience 2022 by Jennifer Doering
- Submit an item for our STRIKE issue!
- Viewpoints Submission Policy
by Erin Weinberg, English, Theatre, Film & Media
As a newly-hired faculty member in Fall 2021, I was not expecting to spend several weeks of my first semester here on the picket line. Yet, for all the challenges we faced in pivoting into the strike and then back into teaching, I got a lot out of the experience. Starting this job during COVID meant that I was teaching online and had little chance to meet my colleagues; the strike was an unexpected opportunity to meet colleagues from my department as well as from faculties throughout UM’s two campuses.
When I became an online picket leader during the second week of the UMFA strike, I knew that a lot of work went into the job action because we were all exhausted; what I would come to develop in time, though, was a better appreciation for why and exactly how we as a union were able to achieve the goals of our strike. When UMFA members asked if I’d be interested in participating in the union delegation for renowned organizer Jane McAlevey’s “Organizing for Power: Core Fundamentals” workshop this past Spring, I jumped on the opportunity.
Concerned friends asked, “are you sure you want to thrust yourself into an organizing workshop at the end of such a taxing school year?” To me, though, the workshop was a necessary way to process exactly what made the process so taxing and why that fight was absolutely necessary. Hosted through the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation, this 6-week workshop included upwards of 4000 participants from over 70 countries, all through Zoom sessions simultaneously translated into languages including Arabic, French, German, Hindi, Lithuanian, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, and Spanish. The program was the perfect mix of active and passive: at some points, we could sit back, listen, and learn from McAlevey and guest speakers from unions across the globe; at other times, the UMFA delegation had our own meetings to strategize over the provided thought experiments and to practice having recruitment discussions with union members who are disinclined, anxious, or fearful about getting involved. The most fulfilling aspect of “O4P” was hearing about the struggles and successes of union members and groups deep in the process of becoming a union. We were taught about concepts like identifying organic leaders (people who may not attend many union meetings, but have lots of influence among the members) and the idea that the union is not a “them,” not a body outside of ourselves, but “us”: each of us needs to fight for what we deserve, and we don’t say “thank you” for union participation because the effort we are putting in is self-appreciation: work we put in is to make ourselves a better future.
One of my biggest takeaways from the workshop is that when a union prepares to fight, they must fight to win. It’s not a lesson in trying and seeing who comes out, but rather, organizing with intention, practice, and, of course, deep, nerdy, pencils-and-pens-and-charts-level work. The speakers introduced us to the concept of “structure testing” – keeping records of all the steps that a union takes before going on strike, broken down into the most minute portions to visualize the progress at each stage: attendance at union meetings, attendance at rallies, intention to participate in the strike vote, leading to, of course, the strike vote itself. Why all the record-keeping for seemingly less significant events? Because in order to have a successful strike vote, the union needs to cultivate a super-majority for every event and initiative that comes before it: the kind of numbers that will show the administration that we are a united voice and organized enough to be prepared to march en masse.
Organizing for Power provided me with deeper insights about how and why we were able to win the victories we did and made me appreciate the challenges faced by union members worldwide. Listening to workers in fields ranging from acting to hydroelectric work to nurses to fellow CAUT members, I got a sense for the unique challenges facing each group as well as the factors that don’t change: union-busting rhetoric by employers that want workers to work harder for less support and fewer resources in return. One particularly impactful speech was by a group of bus drivers from Oakland, California. They were expected to quite literally keep a city moving during the early days of COVID, yet they were not provided with safe, clean, consistent bathrooms to use for relieving themselves and washing their hands. It reminded me of how employers made promises about the extra degrees of cleanliness and disinfection that their workplaces would provide during the early days of COVID, yet the full weight of fulfilling that commitment lies with the workers, workers that are not provisioned with the resources they need to get that done. These drivers were given port-o-potties as a means of solving the washroom issue, yet the employer put padlocks on those washrooms, rendering them useless. This talk provided an object lesson on the ways that employers will provide the bare minimum and then expect to be applauded for providing it, not caring if those provisions are woefully insufficient.
In closing, McAlevey’s secret to organizing is no secret: every single worker deserves dignity and every single worker has a voice to call out inequity. The union is “us,” never them: our voices are stronger when we raise them together.
by Jennifer Doering, Biological Sciences
A little about the course
I am an instructor within the Department of Biological Sciences. I taught a second-level core course within my department during the Spring/Summer session, with a max enrolment of 100 students. This was also my first-time teaching in-person as I was hired early during the Covid-19 pandemic. This course is often taught in 3 terms (Fall, winter, and spring/summer), as it often has waitlists. The course consisted of 75 mins lectures Monday through Thursday, with 3-hour tutorials Tuesdays and Thursdays across two sections. This meant for Tuesdays and Thursdays, I was teaching for almost 8 hours each of those days with very short breaks in between tutorial sections and lecture.
I would describe the experience of being back on campus as invigorating. The energy that the students brought to the classroom was great, and I really enjoyed being able to read the room and the expressions on students' faces to inform my teaching and communication. Students also shared their excitement about the course, as well as their enjoyment at being able to work with their peers on the assignments and class activities. The students really enjoyed the group work activities and felt that it had enhanced their learning of the material and problem sets. I had noticed many students had formed study groups and built friendships throughout the course, something which had been lacking during online instruction and learning.
Challenges during the term
However, this summer term was not without some concerns and challenges. As the instructor in the course, it was very draining policing the mask policy within the classroom. The first two weeks in particular felt like I was constantly nagging students because I was forced to remind them to wear KN95 or 3-ply surgical masks and not cloth masks, and also reminding them to wear them properly (i.e. above their nose, well sealed, etc.). Further to that, I was constantly reminding students to not eat in the classroom during the lecture time since doing so meant students were temporarily removing or lowering their masks in the classroom. The lack of windows and the inability to open the windows of my spaces meant the rooms were stuffy, which while wearing masks, made it very uncomfortable both the students and myself.
Students throughout the term also expressed deep concerns about being in a space with suspected or known positive covid-19 exposures as many students were choosing to come to campus when mildly ill (still symptomatic although their 5-day isolation had passed) or asymptomatic positive to write quizzes or attend class for fear of falling behind or being too overwhelmed with make-up assessments, despite being clear in the syllabus that make-up assessments and extensions would have been accommodated if a student is ill. At one point, 15% of my class was away sick all at once, which intensified my workload, particularly as I was being as flexible as possible for the students to squeeze them in for individual make-up tests (since everyone recovered at different rates). I often sacrificed my own breaks or prep-time to accommodate student schedules. This was particularly difficult when my teaching schedule required me to be in the class for 8 hours a day twice a week during this summer term. Further to that, when students did write make-up quizzes, I had to mark them as my markers are only available for set days during the term and were unable to mark outside of those set times. This workload intensification, especially after coming after the last two years of pandemic teaching, caused continued high levels of burnout, and having the feeling of being increasingly stretched thin. At the end of the term, three students had to defer the final exam due to needing to stay home and isolate, which meant that I had three separate deferrals to coordinate. This meant three separate 3-hour periods that I was required to be on campus after the course had officially ended and I was due to go on holidays, delaying the start of my vacation by two weeks.
CO2 monitoring of teaching spaces
In light of the current Covid-19 pandemic, air quality, particularly within indoor spaces, has been a concern. Maintaining spaces with adequate ventilation and humidity control helps reduce the risk of the airborne transmission of the virus. On way to assess the perceived risk of transmission is through air quality readings of CO2 concentrations and relative humidity. A study by Wang et al., published in the scientific journal Science in 2021, suggested that spaces should be maintained at CO2 levels lower than 700-800 ppm to reduce the risk of airborne spread. Furthermore, the relative humidity affects the transport of airborne particulates within a space. It was also noted in Wang et al. (2021) that viruses can have higher transmission rates at very low relative humidity or at very high relative humidity. Maintaining the relative humidity in the mid-range can help reduce the transport of airborne particulates and viruses within indoor space.
The lectures were held in an older lecture hall in Buller Building that was upgraded with smart technology and that could accommodate my class of 100 students. The windows could not be opened, and the room was often stuffy and hot. After spending weeks trying to get the space tested for CO2 levels via EHSO, I ended up signing out one of UMFAs Aranet CO2 monitors about half-way through the term at the end of May. I was able to test the space for CO2 levels and humidity. The readings I had during class time ranged from 782 – 922 ppm, with a relative humidity of 38%.
Both the morning tutorial section and afternoon tutorial section were within a small classroom in Armes Complex. The classroom had no windows and again felt hot and stuff. Similarly with my request for CO2 monitoring, I ended up taking my own readings at the end of May. In the morning, CO2 readings ranged from 519 – 824 ppm with a relative humidity of 37%. The afternoon tutorial session had readings of between 570 – 840 ppm with a relative humidity of 37%.
Interestingly, after several follow ups with EHSO, both the Buller lecture hall and Armes classroom were tested over a 24-hour period during the final week of semester. Readings ranged from 316 – 655 ppm for the Armes classroom, with relative humidity ranging from 30.5 – 56.8% at 24C, and from 312 – 612 ppm in the Buller lecture hall, with relative humidity ranging from 22.9 – 38.2% at ~23C. It was frustrating that despite weeks of requests for CO2 monitoring for my teaching spaces that the request took so long to complete and was done at the end of term rather than at the start of term when these data would have been informative as to the perceived safety of the spaces, both for myself and my students’ peace of mind.
Overall, while I think it is beneficial to return to in-person experiences (both teaching and learning), there were many challenges, that if left unchecked, could lead to a potentially chaotic and concerning fall semester. If workload intensification occurred just for a single course because of needing to be flexible and accommodating with regards to student illness, how much more will workload intensify when instructors and other teaching faculty are meant to teach 2-4 courses in the fall regular term during the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic? Without supports to reduce workload intensification, and clear communication of policies with regards to masking and staying home when ill (both from administration and in our own courses and units), faculty (and student) burnout will continue to grow at exponential rates, which is not sustainable for the health of the university community.
This November marks one year since the beginning of our last strike. We'd like to publish reflections on the strike experience in the next issue. What did you learn from the strike? What was the most positive aspect of it for you?
Deadline: Nov. 25
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