By Philip Hu, AFT 6157 Executive Director
As I sit here, sipping my coffee on a “Lionel Ritchie” Sunday morning, watching a few hummingbirds buzz about the honeysuckle vine in my yard, I am thankful for the down time, and a slow, easy day ahead. However, this has not been the norm for the past academic year (and a half). Not for me as the executive director of AFT 6157 and not for the amazing, dedicated faculty at SJECCD. As we prepare to tear the June sheet off the calendar (hey, I grew up with paper calendars, what can I say?), we will round the corner into Month 19 of the pandemic, and Month 16 of shelter-in-place.
So much has happened this past year and a half.
I would love to report that a year ago this time, many faculty were slinking into the hot tub of summer, catching their breath, unwinding, soothing sore muscles, and calming the overworked mind after three months of intense adjustment to unprecedented times and constant uncertainty. But that’s just not the case. They were indeed coming off three months of incredible stress, of endless adjustments, of spinning twelve plates with two hands, but there was no rest for the weary. Many were immediately enrolled into “boot camps” or “academies,” intense three-week training sessions set up by each college to ensure faculty had sufficient and necessary computer and technology skills to teach classes via remote teaching modality. Some faculty did this on top of teaching their summer classes.
The fall semester of 2020 started with faculty scrambling to adjust to a purely online/remote environment. Putting what they learned from the boot camps and academies into actual use was like understanding how stick shift works but pulling that car on to the road for the first time. The shifting, the timing, the coordination, the mechanics of it all had to come together. The work of the union during all this, was ensuring our hardworking faculty received some kind of compensation for the inordinate amount of work and time they had been investing.
Shortly after the semester started, we received the heartbreaking news that long-time faculty and advocate of the union, the sitting president of AFT 6157R, Bill Jacobs, passed away. This was a gut punch to us all in the union. The vice president of the retiree chapter, Walter Soellner penned a heartfelt eulogy for Bill. In case you missed it, here it is:
On the positive side, after several years of dormancy, we were able to relaunch the union newsletter, Faculty Matters, in late October of 2020, as an online newsletter. Almost from the day I started in this position, I’ve heard from numerous faculty that they missed Faculty Matters and hope we could reestablish it. I am so proud that we were able to do that. If you haven’t seen the relaunched Faculty Matters, here it is (the first issue):
As cliched as it sounds, as a nation, in November 2020 we held perhaps the most important presidential election of our lifetime, one that would determine if our nation would continue this great experiment known as American democracy or if we would slip into the nascent stages of authoritarian rule. AFT 6157 President Jessica Breheny captured well “all the feels” surrounding that election:
That election turned out to be truly historic and noteworthy because we elected the first woman, and the first woman of color, as vice president. Our own executive board member, Nasreen Rahim, recounted meeting Kamala Harris back in 2016:
And so, with the election over (so most of us thought) and the fall semester concluded, we rolled into winter break with the optimistic promise of a new year…only to witness a violent insurrection unfold on January 6th. Meanwhile, our AFT brothers and sisters in Texas had to endure “The Texas Freeze,” as it is now widely called. We were grateful to have had a few of AFT TX’s leaders join us and share their firsthand experience with us and our members. You can read about their ordeal here:
With so much negativity happening in the outside world, we decided to look inward and celebrate what is right, what is august, and what is honorable, within our own district. We didn’t have to look far. Our very own nursing faculty at Evergreen Valley College had been a shining example of heroism and conscientiousness all year. For their work and efforts, the department received two commendations.
One thing that “returned to normal” in the spring of 2021 was our annual officers election for AFT 6157. Last year, we had to postpone the annual election, usually held in May, to late August, just before PDD. And then, after further consideration, we rescheduled it from late August to July so as to give the new officers and the district, time to prepare for their new roles and released times. It was also the only way to ensure students didn’t have to undergo an disruption to their classes. This spring, we proceeded with our regularly scheduled election, a sign that things are slowly getting back to the way they were.
As we prepare to enter the fall semester of the 2021-2022 school year, AFT 6157’s focus will be on creating better work-life balance for our members, especially after such a difficult and distressful year. We will seek to secure additional compensation for our members who have worked so hard serving the district and nurturing their students; they truly deserve it after going way above and beyond in one of the most uncommon periods of our time. We will also work to ensure the reopening is done with our members’ health and safety at core.
Personally, I will be spending the afternoon with my sister. It’s hard to believe that my baby sister just had a baby of her own. I’m giddy with delight that I will get to meet her baby girl in just a couple of hours. And I can’t help but think, as we all start to reemerge from this pandemic, that a newborn is the perfect reminder that no matter what we encounter, endure, suffer, overcome, life keeps pushing forth. And so shall we.