Race in the Academy: Overcoming Obstacles in Higher Education Clerical Organizing

Amanda Walter, Towson University

Cleveland’s Cuyahoga Community College played a pivotal role in the development of SEIU District 925 in the early 1980s. The first successful union vote for the new union, the Cuyahoga Community College campaign exposed one of the significant difficulties in higher education organizing, staff in numerous buildings and, often, spread across multiple campuses. The road to victory was rife with difficulty due to the continued belief that unionism was not appropriate for women and racial segregation. At Cuyahoga Community College, the downtown campus had primarily African American staff, and the campus in Parma, Ohio, had predominantly white staff. Based on oral histories and SEIU District 925 collection at the Walter Reuther Library in Detroit, I contend that SEIU District overcame the racial divide by creating an integrated organizing committee, including African American women, white women, older women, younger women, and women across the different classifications and campuses. The clerical workers at all the campuses shared the same concerns; they were women struggling to make a living. The UAW Columbia University clerical campaigns in the 1980s also fostered a diverse organizing committee. Women came to join the SEIU campaign as a result of intensive one-on-one organizing and relationship building. Despite a unified organizing committee, soon before the union election, AFSCME entered the race and accused the lead organizer, Anne Hill, of racism. While SEIU District 925 won the election, race played a pivotal role. SEIU District 925 also broke new ground, organizing and winning representation for part-time clerical workers. Later District 925 campaigns would often reference the Cuyahoga Community College as an enormous victory for the fledgling union.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 214. Questioning Racial Hierarchies at Work