Green River College faculty on strike, with support from students and the community

Day One — I am on the picket line

After 18 years in higher education, both as a student and a teacher, I find myself on a strike line for the very first time. I’m here because Green River College’s President Eileen Ely has engaged in retaliation and intimidation tactics and other unfair labor practices.

The thought of a strike is a terrifying prospect, one that I have grappled with for several weeks as so many events have led up to this moment.

I’m a tenured faculty member in the English division, and

the decision to strike has been, at times, excruciating and, at other times, exhilarating.

It is not illegal to strike in Washington state, though many believe it is. But it is not an action that is protected by our contract, so anyone on these picket lines — tenured, adjunct, and tenure-track — is taking significant risks. Despite that fact, after much discussion with my colleagues and my family, and after lots of personal reflection about what is best for students and faculty, I have come to realize that there really is no other choice.

We have come a long way since we filed our first of three votes of no confidence in President Eileen Ely four years ago. Many things have happened between now and then, all of which have led to this moment. Summed up, Ely has threatened faculty with arbitrary and unnecessary program cuts under the guise of a budget crisis. The only crisis at Green River College is a leadership crisis.

So we’re out on a picket line, where most of us have never been before, trying to organize and run a three-day strike that will stop the elimination of programs that we know serve the community.

We are teachers, and we serve students. We are not labor organizers. But we’re here standing up for our institution because we believe in meaningful, shared governance. We believe in fairness. And we can no longer abide unfair labor practices that do not allow us to do our job effectively.

I hope this strike ends sooner than three days. I want to go back to the classroom and work with my students. I want my students to pass their classes and graduate. I want to return to my division to continue working with my colleagues to grow our program. I want to return to a job where I don’t feel threatened. If the strike ends sooner than three days, then I’m confident that our institution — a school that I love — can begin to heal.

Jamie Fitzgerald is a professor of English and a member of Green River Community College United Faculty Coalition. You can read more about the strike here and here.