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The Point: HELU Takes it National!


Greetings, Colleagues:

I am delighted to turn this week’s Point over to our colleague Joseph Ramsey, who has some really fascinating things to say about a new effort to link up higher education unions across the country.


Jeff Melnick

FSU Vice President

Dear FSU colleagues,

In the face of rampant attacks on university educators and students across the country ( ), and unprecedented new union militancy winning historic gains ( ), our FSU has an exciting chance to become part of Higher Ed Labor United (HELU), a much-needed nationwide effort to defend and extend the common good mission of higher education, building a higher ed movement that is “wall to wall and coast to coast.”

Often, we experience UMB’s struggles as local ones: This year’s budget doesn't leave room for the course-offerings or hiring our department needs.  This particular administrator ignores faculty recommendations, no matter how “evidence-based.”  This intransigent management bargaining team refuses to consider union demands, no matter how reasonable.  This concrete substructure crumbles away due to local corruption and state disinvestment.

But, more often than not, underneath these “local” problems are systemic, shared roots. The problems facing our campus are part of a nationwide, sector-wide crisis in higher education.

Call it a crisis of privatization and austerity, cross-layered with a crisis of public legitimacy: perpetual federal and state underfunding and budget austerity; increasingly top-down corporate style management, eroding away faculty governance and academic freedom; a shifting of the cost-burden of education away from taxpayers (and especially the wealthy) and onto the backs of students, their families, and public employees; the rise of student debt and work hours to perilous levels; the undermining of once-secure academic careers into precarious “gig” work; endemic understaffing and increasing workloads leading to escalating employee burnout.

And now we have a vicious right-wing ideological offensive seeking to wage culture war against the progressive curricular gains of generations.

This is a national, sectoral crisis, and it calls for a nation-wide and sector-wide response, a coordinated movement of higher educators united—across all our existing national unions, and all job categories—to reverse this trend of austerity, privatization, and demagoguery.

The Higher Ed Labor United coalition (HELU for short) represents just such a response.

Formed out of the crucible of the COVID crisis, HELU has brought hundreds of higher ed faculty and staff organizers together from 40 states, developing a Vision Statement that expresses a transformative idea of our higher ed system, as well as an organizing strategy to achieve that vision in the next five years.  We've had nearly 150 local and statewide unions endorse this vision, representing 600,000 higher ed workers (including our own FSU).

To make that vision a reality, HELU is presently focused on at least 3 major fronts:

1) Building a solidarity network that allows higher ed workers all across the country to mobilize support for higher educators on the frontlines of struggle. You can see the latest solidarity asks here:

2) Working to link up local campus bargaining campaigns regionally and nationally so that we can share best practices, raise up common demands, and mobilize support from one another across campuses .

3) Developing shared legislative language and targeted political advocacy to win robust new federal funding along the lines of the “College For All” Act.  Particular to HELU’s approach here is a focus not only on increasing budget allocations, but also securing labor provisions, requiring that all federally-funded institutions reverse the trend towards adjunctification, giving all faculty and staff the job security, academic freedom, benefits, and pay equity that we need and deserve.

Through all of this work, by raising up local fights and linking struggles across the country, HELU is working to transform the national narrative about the crisis in higher ed, clarifying its genuine causes and impacts—thus preparing the ground for genuine progressive systemic solutions.


As FSU considers HELU membership this week (come meet HELU leader Todd Wolfson at tomorrow’s ExCom meeting at 3:30 if you can!) I’d like to close with the words of Todd Rudd, a colleague from United Faculty of Florida (UFF), the largest higher ed union in a state where the attacks right now are particularly vicious, and HELU’s most recent new formal member union:

 “Ever since the Republicans took over Florida’s state government and Jeb Bush became governor in the nineties, UFF and its affiliates have been attacked…But we now face the biggest crisis of all, with escalating and relentless attacks from Governor DeSantis and his political allies during the last year or so.

“Yet in the middle of this growing crisis, UFF decided to join a new national organization, HELU, Higher Education Labor United…Why did we do this?

“Because we recognized that our battles aren’t confined to Florida.  We need all the help we can get…Through HELU UFF is circulating nationally op eds and interviews by our state president,  and gathering national support in the form of phone calls and emails.  Even as we expand our own support for our union colleagues in other states.  Solidarity is reciprocal, and is gradually building a movement and a consciousness to match the scale of the attacks on us and our students.”

The day has surely arrived when we too at UMB can use all the help we can get.  HELU is working to create that broader network of support, and to help us support our colleagues elsewhere, too. It’s long past time higher education labor had a response to the situation we face that is up to the scale of that crisis.

In scholarship and solidarity,

Joseph G. Ramsey, PhD

Senior Lecturer

English and American Studies

HELU Outreach committee