February 2018 Solidarity Now!

The Beginnings of Local 4730: an interview with Linda Harl, one of the earliest members
In this first edition of Solidarity Now! for the Local’s 25th anniversary year, we offer the following from a previous edition in April, 2012. The interviewee, Linda Harl, was one of the earliest members of Local 4730, and editor of the newsletter even when the Local was organizing. She was also a valuable member of the Bargaining Committee and a member-at-large on the Executive Board. She was an administrative secretary in the Philosophy Department for many years, retiring on July 31, 2010.

SN: When did support staff begin working on a union and why?
Linda Harl: The first meeting was held in July 1989. A group of clerical workers had discussed trying to unionize their co-workers for some time, but realized it would be too big a project to do without help. Barb Lentz, who worked at the Conference Bureau, had met CWA official Mike Joyce through her job, and he became the contact with CWA. He promised financial and organizational help and things grew from there. Soon we had two full time organizers and more help from the regional and national union offices. Issues at the time were low pay, rising costs, a lack of a grievance system with any teeth, and inconsistencies in how policies were applied between offices.

SN: What was the reaction of the administration, faculty and other staff?
Linda Harl: Administrators were predictably officially neutral, although some did seem to be more than irritated with the way we kept bring up things they didn’t want to talk about. They treated the Articles of Cooperation as gospel. The reaction of members of the other groups ranged from very supportive to close to downright hostility. Staff participation was always the strongest in the IMU and the Library.

There were two hurdles we had to jump over before we were recognized. The first was to prove that what were then two distinct job classification systems (clerical and technical) were close enough in duties to be represented by the same union. This entailed appearing before professional arbitrators in the mock trial building of the Law School. We won the battle.

SN: How long did it take to get recognized?
Linda Harl: This leads to the second hurdle. We had to get the majority of people in both categories of employees to vote in favor of having the union represent them. They didn’t have to join at this time, just vote ‘yes’.

One night after a meeting discussing an organizing strategy for the vote, I heard Elvis sing “It’s Now or Never” on the radio. One thing led to another and “Elvis” began making appearance on our behalf. Rodney Ward, a geology employee, rewrote some of the lyrics and we found an impersonator in town willing to work with us. (Side note here: one of the funniest experiences I ever had during this period was eating lunch with “Elvis” in the Commons and watching people stare.)

Finally, the ballots were cast and counted in April, 1993—four long years after we started. The vote in both categories was overwhelmingly in our favor. Then we were officially organized as Local 4730 and began to get people to sign cards—a fight that continues today, I’m sure.

SN: Has the union lived up to expectations?
Linda Harl: The expectations were probably as varied as the members, so it is hard to answer this question. But I truly believe CWA has greatly improved the working environment for support staff.

[Read more by downloading the PDF version of Solidarity Now!]