More adjunct faculty join unions

Inside Higher Education reports that adjunct faculty who belong to unions have better salaries, more benefits, and better working conditions than their non-union counterparts.

“(Unionization) does empirically make a difference,” said Adriana Kezar to Colleen Flaherty reporting for Inside Higher Education.

Kezar, a professor of education at the University of Southern California, directs the Delphi Project, which studies issues regarding the use of adjunct faculty at the nation’s colleges and university.

Flaherty also referred to a report published in 2012 by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce that shows that the salary of unionized adjunct faculty is 25 per higher than non-union faculty. Union members also are more likely to have benefits such as health insurance and better working conditions such as paid office hours and more regular class assignments.

Teaching at a college or university was once considered a middle-class job, but today when 50 percent of the teaching is done by adjunct faculty, whose pay is low, whose work is precarious, and who have little if any input about the terms of their employment, that is no longer the case.

Given the conditions of their work and the advantages gained by collective action, it’s no wonder that union organizing among adjunct faculty has gained momentum and more adjunct faculty are joining unions.

In May, adjuncts at Georgetown University in the District of Columbia voted to join SEIU Local 500.

They joined their fellow adjuncts at Montgomery College, American University, and George Washington University as members of Local 500, which has members in local governments and community service organizations throughout the DC area.

SEIU is using the leverage of powerful locals such as Local 500 to build union density among adjunct faculty in certain metropolitan areas in the Northeast.

In Boston, SEIU formed Adjunct Action to coordinate organizing at 20 area institutions of higher education.

As a result of the work done by Adjunct Action members, adjunct faculty at Tufts and Bentley University will be voting in a union recognition election in September.

Tufts adjuncts will begin voting by mail on September 9. Votes will be counted by the National Labor Relations Board on September 26.

Voting at Bentley will begin in late September.

After faculty at Bentley successfully petitioned for a union election, the school administration raised adjuncts’ salaries–9.5 percent for undergraduate instructors and 3.55 percent for graduate adjuncts.

While the raises were good news, low pay is only one of the problems faced by adjuncts and only one reason why they are joining unions.

“The problem for me and a lot of adjuncts is that you never know if you’re going to have work,” said Doug Kierdorf, who teaches history at Bentley. “I think if most students knew the terms of our employment, they would be appalled.”

SEIU isn’t the only union organizing adjuncts.

In Pittsburg, adjuncts at Duquesne University’s McNulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts voted in 2012 to join the United Steelworkers.

Duquesne during the organizing drive joined two other Catholic universities–Manhattan College in New York City and Xavier University in Chicago–in trying to block unionization efforts by arguing that their status as religious institutions exempted them from the National Labor Relations Act. The NLRB subsequently ruled against them.

In Texas where most public employees including teachers are barred from bargaining collectively, adjunct faculty have nevertheless banded together to form unions and fight for fair treatment on the job.

Adjunct faculty at the state’s public universities have joined the Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186 and have succeeded in winning health care benefits for graduate assistants. Members at the University of Texas at Austin have joined coalition of student and community groups to stop privatization at the university.

At Austin Community College, adjunct faculty have joined full-time faculty and classified staff to form ACCAFT Local 6249, which has led successful legislative campaigns including one to win health care benefits for part-time faculty.

In addition to wanting better pay, benefits, and working conditions, adjuncts also want a voice on the job that gives them the opportunity to influence the terms of their employment.

“We want to have a voice in our employment decisions,” said Tufts adjunct Rebecca Kaiser Gibson to Boston.com. “We want to be able to talk as equals at the bargaining table.”

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