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adjunctification, deprofessionalization, librarians, and the beginning of the end

The university was closed today bc of the weather. Of course, I didn’t know this until I got to campus and then had to spend another hour and a half going back home. I left my place at 6:30 and returned at 9:00. A long trip for not much at all.

The problem… of course, is that I’m likely to have to go to work tomorrow to make up for the lost time. Missing even one day of work is catastrophic for me, given that I’m a woefully underpaid part-time librarian. Because our shiny, new union is still in the process of negotiating our first collective bargain, I know that there isn’t any way for me to essentially get credit for going all the way to campus. No recourse (just like I don’t get sick days). Missed hours are gone forever.

So I used two bus tokens today to do nothing. I’m going to have to use another two tomorrow (except that I only have one left). Going to have to reschedule everything else tomorrow. Sad thing is? I’m lucky that I can make up lost hours. Some of my comrades in the union will not have this opportunity. I select my own hours and I can go into work whenever I feel like it. Most others have set schedules. So if any of them are missing work today, that’s just too bad.

We were supposed to have a bargaining session with the University today. And we were all anticipating that it’d be one of the harder, more contentious ones than we’ve had thus far. During our last session, we ended up disagreeing over two fairly small, inconsequential seeming points: credentials and academic freedom.

Weird, huh?

We want the requirement to have an MLIS (or equivalent) to be baked into our collective agreement. The University doesn’t see the point of this since they have historically had this as a qualifiction in job postings for part-time librarians.

Why do we want this? Because the writing is on the wall in higher ed, inclusive of academic libraries. Adjunctification (which we are the librarian equivalent) and deprofessionalization are increasingly more common. Many of us are particularly worried about deprofessionalization because most of our jobs exist because the full-time librarians don’t like doing the tasks we do. We are the grunt workers amongst the librarians.

Given the labour environment at York, I’m pretty sure the only reason why they haven’t actually deprofessionalized our positions is because replacing us with staff would probably be more costly. Staff belong to a union. Fuck, they might even get paid more than we do (depending on seniority). As it stands, we are a bargain for the University. And they know it. They’ve certainly been more than happy to take advantage of the sad state of the field and hire on cheap librarians.

I mean… they are getting people with at least two degrees (one bachelors and one masters) for $25/hour. Of course, many of the current union members actually have another graduate degree (another masters and I think one person has a PhD). They are getting highly skilled, highly educated labour for bargain prices.

For context: the grad students who do grading get paid more than we do.

So… yes. We are seeking greater protection in terms of credentials precisely because we are shaking up the labour environment. Given the pettiness of the Libraries thus far, I wouldn’t be surprised if they just stopped hiring PT librarians and replaced us with staff or students. One by one, our contracts wouldn’t be renewed and that would be that.

Or… given the trend towards adjunctification, its quite possible that our small union (we have about twenty members) is actually setting the foundation for soon to be majority of librarians working at York. It could go either way. We certainly haven’t hired many full-time librarians in the four years I’ve been working (I can think of like two off the top of my head). My own department is slowly dying via attrition as people retire and aren’t replaced by anyone.

Either way, we do think it is critical that, at least for this first agreement, that we make it very clear and unambiguous that we are a union of professionals.

Which ties quite nicely into the issue of academic freedom.

Full-time librarians at York are part of the faculty association. They get tenure and all that implies. They are considered faculty. And there is a general expectation to do research and such. So, obviously, they have academic freedom in their agreement with the University. I mean… it isn’t like academic freedom is one of the major values of higher education.

So imagine our surprise when we were met with resistance on this point. Turns out, that the University doesn’t think we require academic freedom. The only coherent reason we were given for this was that research isn’t part of our jobs. Or something.

To me… this, combined with the credentials issue, sent a pretty clear message as to how we are perceived the university. We really are the grunt workers in the libraries. We are most certainly not perceived to be part of York’s larger scholarly community (or perhaps the community at all).

Wonderful, is it not?

One of the interesting responses to the credentials issue was that we should be willing to trust that the University will continue to follow past precedent by including the MLIS as a qualification in job postings. Given their position on academic freedom and their past treatment of us as a whole, I’m very unclear as to why they think this is a tenable suggestion.

They can’t be trusted. They’ve had ample time to ensure that we had fair and equitable working conditions. Heck, they could even earn some goodwill and trust by not being so petty in establishing this agreement.

But…

It strucks me as odd that they don’t quite seem to realize that, if they had been treating us fairly, we wouldn’t even be in this position. As noted above our bargaining unit has around twenty people. That’s a very small group, given the size of York. We also are all part-time and coordinating schedules has been very challenging. Unionizing, in general, requires a fair bit of effort.

I know I worked to make this union a reality because our working conditions are ridiculous. My main reasoning for this was healthcare and other benefits. Being disabled, this kind of matters a lot to me, considering how much of my income goes towards my healthcare.

And now there is this issue of academic freedom… I know that my current position might be surprising to some given that it seems the oppositve of what I’ve written in the past. So too on the issue of deprofessionalization. Of course, between then and now I got sued over something I said. So… Yeah. My opinion has shifted somewhat (I’m not implying that The Blog Post should be covered by academic freedom, just saying that I do get why it matters now).

Those criticisms are still something I believe. However, I also believe in being pragmatic. Things like tenure, academic freedom, research, credentials, etc. are considered important by the admin (and many other people in the field). These things also generally come with certain benefits and privileges (like getting sick days).

Even though we’ve traditionally had some of these things, it certainly hasn’t been reflected in the quantitative ways that we measure the value of labour. We have very little reason to think that if we concede on these areas, that this won’t be used as evidence that our labour isn’t as valuable as our full-time colleagues. While we already know that they don’t value our labour, this is our chance to declare our worth and ask that it be recognized.

I predict that this won’t end well. Because the looming thing behind all of this is wages. Which is the quantitative way we determine the value of labour in capitalism. Thus, the University has a vested interest in ensuring that our status – as described in our collective agreement – is below that of our full-time colleagues. And this is the message they’ve been sending us for years and the message being clearly communicated in our bargainning sessions.