Ralph Carmona, ME

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Ralph CarmonaAs an adjunct professor at Southern Maine Community College and VP of SEIU-MSEA’s Adjunct Faculty chapter, I see, firsthand, the positive difference we make as union members.

Just three years ago, adjunct professors at Maine’s community colleges had no viable benefits, job security or sick leave; really, no hope for a stable career path.  A teachable moment came when I learned of a neighbor teaching five classes on three different college campuses and driving over 100 miles a week. Denied the opportunity to teach four of her classes, she avoided homelessness in the neighborhood by collecting recyclable cans and working a below-minimum wage job at the local drive-in theater. This woman has three college degrees.

Due to the success of our organizing work on college campuses, adjunct professors – like my neighbor who is now a union member –  feel more appreciated as participants in the Maine Community College System. Winning a voice on the job, their morale improves and they see the potential to connect much better with students in a positive way. Students, faculty and higher education all win in this effort.

Before moving to Maine, I had a much different career path. For almost 30 years, I was deeply involved in the banking and energy industries in California — helping to craft and execute policies for my employers. As a former vice president of legislative, executive, and regulatory affairs for Bank of America in California and a public affairs executive for the Sacramento Municipal District (SMUD), I understand the good and bad effects of businesses and utilities on the lives of America’s working people. I didn’t set out to be part of these industries, but it did help to shape my perspective on our economy and democracy, and what we need to do to fix both.

Beginning in the late 1970s, our economy began to lose its balance. Corporations and the wealthiest Americans, through deregulation, legal loopholes and legislative tax cuts, began taking more and more wages and work benefits from productive employees, devastating our unionized working people. Through highly funded interests groups and campaign organizations, they are infringing on our most humane right in an economic democracy — the right to organize. That’s why the Friedrichs case, now before the Supreme Court is so worrisome.

It’s one of the many reasons why I’m currently working to organize adjunct professors as part of the Fight for $15 movement. We are all part of a human family that requires decent wages. It is the path to a livable and better quality of work in America. Over 11 million people have already won raises since this movement began and we have to keep it going. The fate of our country depends on it.