#Fightfor15 SEIU Convention

Peter Pihos

#Fightfor15 SEIU Convention

My name is Peter Pihos.

I teach at Duke University. Teaching at Duke sounds pretty good, right? In many ways, it is. I have brilliant students, remarkable colleagues, and world-class resources.

So why am I up here?

I am here representing contingent faculty because we are struggling. I spent 7 years finishing graduate school, writing a 500-page dissertation on policing and racism in Chicago.

As a contingent faculty member at Duke, I make less than the average high school teacher – even in North Carolina, which scrapes the bottom of the barrel in teacher pay.

Despite having two PhDs, my wife and I struggle to make enough money to support our growing family. We have $35,000 in student loans. We pay a lot for insurance, but still find ourselves scheduling payment plans to afford routine medical procedures.

Will wither of us be able to afford leave—unpaid—when our second daughter is born this fall?

We are here because the #Fightfor15 is our fight. We’ll do whatever it takes to win.

Something is awry in our education system. Conservative policies prioritize spending on prison for the poor and tax breaks for the rich, rather than supporting colleges. Universities have adopted McDonald’s business practices that benefit an ever-smaller circle of elites, at the expense of teachers and students.

Like McDonald’s, universities thrive on cheap labor. They have always exploited service workers, particularly people of color. Since the 1970s, they have turned away from hiring full-time tenure track faculty in favor of contingent workers. There are now more than 1 million adjuncts. Nearly 50 percent of faculty members teach part-time. In my state, North Carolina, 29% of part-time faculty live below or near the poverty line. Many rely on public assistance to make ends meet.

This McDonald’s business model costs students and teachers. It costs workers and their families. It costs taxpayers.

We say no more. This is why we #Fightfor15 and a Union.

Until Fight for 15 there was no “we” amongst Duke contingent faculty. We were 300 individuals, spread across 29 different job classifications. We didn’t know about each other, or how “we” were being treated. What we had in common was that Duke classified us as “non-regular” faculty.

The only thing “non-regular” is our employment conditions. The worst off among us make as little as $11/hour, without benefits. Classes can be cancelled at the last minute, with no pay. There is no path to career advancement, other than getting a better job at another university.

Despite this, we put our hearts and minds into teaching students.

We make Duke work. And, they call us “non-regular.”

We fought for #15 and Union because our conditions of employment are becoming all too regular. At the South’s most powerful university, in the country’s most anti-union state, Duke contingent faculty voted by more than 6 to 1 to form an SEIU Union.

We won at Duke, and at Tufts, and at University of Chicago, and in 35 other elections. This summer and fall, we’re going to make it happen at USC and elsewhere. Whatever it takes.

These victories are making a difference. At Duke, we are bargaining our first contract. We know: A union means better wages and working conditions. Some Tufts faculty saw wage increases of more than 40 percent in their first contract.

But this struggle is about more than our pocketbooks. We’re laying out an alternative vision for higher education in America. This struggle is about our shared future. What kind of universities will we have? Ones that create broadly shared opportunity? Or, ones that merely enrich an elite?

What kind of country do we want?

Let’s do whatever it takes to win 15 and a union