The terrain between Florida and California is starkly different, and not just because of the Sunshine State’s humidity.
Just ask Jacob Skelton, an ESL teacher and the new grievance rep at L.A. Mission College. Skelton was raised and educated in Florida. Having been a union advocate on both coasts, Skelton has noticed a vastly different climate since relocating to California.
“Florida is a right to work state,” noted Skelton who was an undergraduate at the University of Florida. “So you’re not allowed to be on college campuses with unions, which limits your organizing power. At Broward College where I used to work, any time a labor or union issue would come up, our provost would stop the meeting and say, ‘That’s a union issue. We don’t talk about that on campus.’ So, very stark differences between the two states.”
“I’m pretty surprised in my three years here to see how strong the unions are and how culturally the state [of California] is really behind labor,” he added. “It’s fantastic.”
Skelton comes from a family of teachers. After completing his college studies, he started teaching in South Korea. He enjoyed the work so much that he decided to target working with non-native English speakers in America at the community college level.
His involvement with the faculty summit at Broward sparked his interest in unionism. Unfair provisions of the contract at Broward deepened his interest in wanting to learn more and also helped pave the way for his eventual relocation to California.
“When your pay is tied to success rates in your classroom, that’s a big ethical issue for me, especially as an ESL faculty member,” Skelton said. “How do you measure proficiency in a way that is individualized? Around the same time, Florida also had a much more extreme version of California’s AB 705. There are many reasons I decided to leave Florida, but that was certainly one factor, seeing those changes coming.”
Even based in a largely labor-friendly state like California, Skelton acknowledges that the fight continues, but
he remains optimistic that unions will continue to thrive.
“I realize that the Janus vs AFSCME decision set us back, but on the positive side, I think the fundamentals culturally in this state are very strong,” he said. “There are pro-union legislators. Our governor is pro-labor. We just need to maintain our unity as faculty. If we can keep the focus on our own unity and our own efforts, I think we’ll be OK and hopefully spread this message into a post-Janus world.”