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Why is AFT the Best Fit for Affiliation for UHPA?

(This Q&A is part of a continuing series that we introduced with the “Taking a Hard Look at Our Future Starts with Asking the Hard Questions” article)

While it’s easy to see how affiliation will broaden our influence and strengthen our collective strength and voice as faculty, choosing an affiliation that will best represent UHPA requires due diligence. In the past, UHPA has disaffiliated from organizations such as the National Education Association (NEA) because they weren’t focused on higher education issues; didn’t understand how to engage in our local politics; and failed to understand the nuances and subtleties of our local ways of doing business. 

The governance structure of NEA has not changed. 

Within the NEA national governance structure, UHPA was — and still is —  considered a “chapter” of the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA). NEA will only affiliate a higher education faculty union under the auspices of the NEA state affiliate, which is in Hawai‘i the HSTA. In other words, UHPA would again fall under HSTA.

Now as UHPA re-examines affiliation, should UH faculty be concerned again about making a decision that doesn’t meet our current and future needs and our desired outcomes? After all, we’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and K-12 public education is always front and center for the public so it’s easy to be overlooked.

AFT’s Answer

AFT is fully invested and understands higher education.  In June 2022, AFT created a more powerful and inclusive academic labor movement in higher education by affiliating with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).  Combined, AFT and AAUP represent more than 70% of all unionized faculty in higher education across the nation.  Moreover, as the only AFT affiliate in the state of Hawai‘i, UHPA would have a direct line to the AFT Leadership team, all while maintaining its autonomy.  

AFT has a dedicated State Legislative Initiatives Department, and in conjunction with their Organizing and Field Services, works closely with local unions to craft political and legislative campaigns to fight back against any and all attacks on faculty, union members, tenure, academic freedom, and maintaining consistent institutional funding. These campaigns have included the anti-higher education; anti-tenure; and anti-diversity; equity and inclusion bills in Florida, Ohio and Texas, as well as funding attacks against college and university systems in Connecticut and New Jersey.  As we have recently experienced, UHPA has faced similar challenges over the past several years by our local legislature.

AFT has also proactively helped fund contingent healthcare in California, streamline unemployment insurance for adjunct faculty in New Jersey, and improve access to healthcare for adjunct faculty in Oregon. 

The Kind of Partner UHPA Needs

AFT is clearly not afraid to roll up their sleeves and do what it takes to help their affiliates tackle their issues. We can see the potential of AFT and UHPA partnering to develop strategic campaigns to proactively engage in impactful legislation, and training UHPA members for political advocacy.  Their modus operandi is very different from other national unions and something that molds well into UHPA’s mission, initiatives, and goals.

Here’s a letter that AFT President Randi Weingarten wrote to the West Virginia University Board of Governors in August 2023. Imagine if someone of her stature wrote a letter to the UH Board of Regents and the attention this would receive locally and nationally!

Feedback is Always Welcomed

As always, we’re open to feedback from our members, so please don’t hesitate to email those suggestions to