On Saturday, December 9th, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA) board of directors voted unanimously to affiliate with the largest higher education union—and one of the most influential unions—in the nation, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The AFT executive council voted on Monday, December 11th, to unanimously accept the 2,700-member UHPA as an affiliate, with an effective date sometime in Spring 2024.
AFT Almost 2 Million Strong
The AFT currently has 1.7 million members. In June 2022, with the affiliation of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the AFT recommitted itself to a more inclusive and powerful academic labor movement, championing students’ freedom to learn, professors’ freedom to teach, and the necessary investments and resources to address academic sustainability, affordability for students, and the precarious and impoverished academic workforce. The AFT represents more than 70 percent of all unionized faculty in higher education in the United States.
“The UHPA board strongly believes it is a critical time to affiliate with the AFT to benefit our members. Academic freedom and the rights of faculty are increasingly under siege across the nation. Politics interfere with university decisions, and faculty are in the crosshairs,” said David Duffy, president of the UHPA board of directors and principal investigator of numerous botany- and zoology-related research projects that have secured millions of dollars in extramural (nonstate) grants for the University of Hawai’i.
“We also continually face challenges in our own state with ongoing meddlesome and vexatious legislation that undermines the University of Hawai‘i’s autonomy and threatens individual faculty, our programs, and our academy—clear violations of our state constitution,” he added.
Ready To Take On Tough Issues
AFT President Randi Weingarten, who is in Hawai’i to meet with the UHPA board of directors, is known for her staunch advocacy for faculty and the students the faculty union and its members serve. She doesn’t shy away from confronting difficult issues facing higher education and our democracy. The AFT has been unafraid to air its views and stance on controversial issues and political attacks affecting faculty nationwide.
AFT Has Our Back Now
“Today’s affiliation is proof positive that while higher education in Hawai‘i and in states across the country is under attack, faculty are determined to fight back—and to fight forward for the resources, support and voice that they, their students and their institutions need to succeed,” she said. “Higher education is a gateway to opportunity. For that opportunity to be real, academic freedom and campus democracy must be protected, not obstructed. To fight the attacks, we all need new partners. We are indeed stronger together, and the AFT will have UHPA’s back as we work together to ensure that members across all University of Hawai‘i campuses are treated with the dignity and respect they demand and deserve.”
Legislative Campaigns to Resist Attacks In the Works
The AFT has committed its state legislative initiatives department—which works closely with local unions to craft political and legislative campaigns to resist attacks on faculty, union members, tenure, academic freedom, and consistent institutional funding—to work with UHPA. These campaigns this year have included fighting back against anti-higher education; anti-tenure; and anti-diversity, equity and inclusion bills in Florida, Ohio and Texas, as well as funding to defend against attacks on college and university systems in Connecticut and New Jersey. The AFT has also committed the resources that accompany these campaigns.
Preparing For Our Future
“UHPA has demonstrated that we’ve been able to serve our members well over the past decade as an independent union, but now we are preparing for our future,” said Christian Fern, UHPA executive director. “Our affiliation with the AFT provides us with the resources, knowledge and experience of a respected national union that specializes in serving faculty in higher education. The AFT’s affiliation with AAUP gives us access to the best of both worlds: AAUP’s academic and curricular resources and the AFT’s organizing and bargaining expertise. All the while, UHPA will maintain full autonomy as preserving the autonomy of local affiliates is one of AFT’s core values.”
Moving Forward Based on Member Feedback
“Over the past several months, we conducted our due diligence on the AFT and provided information to UHPA members so that they could freely share their feedback, as well as, provided clarification and answers to questions. The UHPA board members, who represent the collective voice of our members, voted based on that feedback,” he added. “The UHPA leadership looks forward to working with the AFT team.”
Fern added that, through a partnership with the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the AFT will offer UHPA and other affiliates training on the art and science of collective bargaining and contract negotiation to its membership.
The UHPA and the AFT will now work together to finalize an affiliation agreement and determine an effective date for the affiliation, which we anticipate will be around Spring 2024. Stay tuned to further announcements as we move forward through this process.