Report on COCAL V Conference in Montreal

Report of COCAL V, Montreal, Quebec, CAN, Concordia University October 4-6, 2002, hosted by Concordia University Part-time Faculty Assoc. (CUPFA), the unaffiliated union of credit part-timers

Chicago was represented at Montreal by Jocelyn Graf and Joe Berry where we mixed among the over 200 other participants, the vast majority being contingent faculty from all over US the Canada. There was also a small delegation from the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) and the independent union there which represents over 20,00 faculty and staff, most of whom are on limited contracts, in other words contingent.

All of the major academic unions from the US and Canada were represented by their top higher ed leaders, including AFT, NEA and AAUP. They also participated in an inter organizational panel as a plenary. This constituted a new level of respect for the grassroots contingent faculty movement and was a reflection of respect for what we have built. Participants came not only from the expected areas such as CA, MA, NY, WA and throughout Canada, but also from areas such as North Carolina, Utah, Ohio and other places where the movement has been less developed. The absence of significant grad employee representation continues to be a problem. The conference. like previous ones, was overwhelmingly white, a continuing problem and a source of some discussion. Jocelyn Graf went to a session on discrimination and the participants started a caucus to deal with this issue on a continuing basis. The conference leadership was largely female (and super competent) which was a welcome reflection of the actual composition of the movement and the workforce overall.

Those of us from the US were able to see first hand some of the advances that have been made by the Canadians, in Quebec and elsewhere, in a context where most contingents are now organized. The contrast in collective bargaining agreements that have been negotiated was striking.

The Canadians do share our problem of building a unified movement across many organizational lines, with a number of unions present in the sector there just as is the case here, ad splits between tenure track faculty groups and contingents in some places. The conference seemed to represent a step forward along these lines for the Canadians and we all participated in a coordinated march/demonstration covering three separate colleges and two unions as they build up for their next negotiations. This was particularly impressive since the language barrier also has to be crossed. There are real lessons here for us in the US.

The content of the sessions ranged from nuts and bolts pay and conditions to broader strategic discussions. As is usually the case, the best information was in informal conversations in hallways and over meals. There was a good deal of interest evidenced in our work here in Chicago including an invitation to us to host the next COCAL in the summer of 2004. We tentatively accepted, but will have a lot of work to do to make it happen. The decision did generate some discussion due to the current contested (IEA and IFT) unionization efforts in the City Colleges, but in the end the group unanimously decided to hold it in Chicago with the idea that it could help us here build the organizing movement and bring people together across organizational lines. I hope we can make that happen.

The conference also passed, in 3 languages, a Montreal Declaration on contingent faculty. It is available on the conference website

The final sessions also decided to hold another Campus Equity Week in the spring of 2003. There was substantial discussion as to spring or fall, but spring won (Berry voted for fall to give us more time). We will all do what we can in the time available and an open North American steering committee is now in formation to lead the effort and set a date for the action. (Anyone who wants to serve on it from Chicago should speak up.)

The Campus Action Group of NAFFE (North American Alliance for Fair Employment) also met at the conference and continues to provide some continuing between-conference leadership to the movement, as well as a direct link to the network of other contingent worker groups throughout North America.

Finally, it should be noted that the conference adopted the slogan from the Roosevelt Adjunct Faculty Organization (RAFO) organizing campaign, "It's Time for a New Deal!", while adding the visual pun of giving out a deck of specially inscribed playing cards to every registrant. "Un nouveau défi."

Joe Berry, with input from Jocelyn Graf

For more coverage of COCAL V, see the October 31, 2002 newsletter from NAFFE, available online as a PDF file, with picture on page one and article on page three.

Last revised on January 25, 2003 by the Webmaster.