More adjunct faculty vote to join unions

Adjunct faculty at two universities in September voted to join two different unions. At another university, a union election has been delayed by the lockout of government employees who supervise union representation elections.

Adjuncts at Duquesne University’s McNulty College voted 50-9 to join the United Steelworkers (USW); however, the university has said that it will not recognize the union pending its appeal of an earlier ruling by the National Labor Relations Board.

By a vote of 128-57, adjunct faculty at Tufts University in the Boston area voted to join SEIU, and they expect to begin negotiating a new contract soon.

Instructors at Bentley University near Boston also voted in a union representation election. Their ballots were supposed to be counted on October 4. But the shutdown of the federal government has caused staff at the NLRB who would normally count the ballots to be locked out.

After instructors at Duquesne petitioned for a union election, administrators appealed to the NLRB seeking to stop the election from proceeding arguing that the school’s affiliation with the Catholic Church exempted it from US labor laws. The NLRB denied the appeal, but the university has continued to press its case for an exemption on religious grounds.

The university’s case was undercut recently by the Association of Pittsburg Priests. The association on October 8 published a letter in the Pittsburg Post Gazette reaffirming its support for the adjuncts’ effort to seek a living wage and to organize a union.

“We believe that it is both appropriate and necessary to question and challenge recent assertions by Duquesne University that it should be granted a ‘religious exemption’, from the sanction and procedures of US labor law in order to block adjunct teaching faculty’s ability to organize, form a union, and collectively bargain,” reads the letter.

The challenges facing part-time faculty at Duquesne were driven home by the recent death of Margaret Mary Vojtko, who taught French at Duquesne.

After teaching for 25 years, Vojtko’s contract was not renewed last spring.

She died on September 1 of a heart attack. At the time of her death Vojtko was 83 years old and living in poverty.

The situation for adjuncts at Tufts is not nearly as drastic as their counterparts at Duquesne.

Their pay is higher than most adjuncts, and they have some health care benefits.

But they still face job insecurity, and the Tufts administration has been seeking takeaways.

Their pay has been frozen since 2008, and the university has changed their pay structure.

Andy Klatt, a Spanish instructor at Tufts told Colleen Flaherty of Inside Higher Education that the organizing drive was a defensive move.

“The university has already started taking things away from us,” said Klatt to Flaherty. “We’re  relatively better off than others, but there certainly seems to be a desire on  the part of the university to cut us down to size.”

Flaherty reports that when bargaining begins, the union will seek more job security, a raise, and equitable pay per course.

Tufts joins a number of urban based institutions of higher learning where adjuncts have voted to join SEIU.

Their effort is part of SEIU’s metro strategy, which seeks to use the power of already existing SEIU locals in metropolitan areas such as Boston, Los Angeles, and Washington DC to attract and organize adjuncts in their respective areas.

SEIU created Adjunct Action to carry out the metro strategy.

Bentley University is another of the institutions where Adjunct Action’s campaign has taken hold.

Adjuncts last spring petitioned for a union election because like other adjuncts across the country they don’t know from semester to semester whether they will have work or if they do, how much work they will have.

Bentley adjuncts also want better pay and affordable health care. Adjunct faculty have access to the university’s health plan, but Bentley doesn’t pay anything for the premiums.

“Better pay, benefits, and job security for adjuncts will directly transfer to a rising quality of education for our student body,” said Elaine Saunders, an instructor to The Vanguard, the Bentley student newspaper. “Also, we have had support from full-time faculty who care about the disparity because they know we are equally dedicated to our students.”

Voting on union representation began in September, but  since 1,600 NLRB staff have been forced off the job by federal government shutdown, ballots have not been counted.


2 thoughts on “More adjunct faculty vote to join unions

  1. I was much involved with the Bentley union movement, and our “exit polls” showing a large majority voting “Yes” suggest that the shutdown-based delay (that began Oct 1st) changed the vote’s outcome. It remains to be seen if the National Labor Relations Board can verify that a final flood of over 100 votes without postmarks came in before the Oct. 3rd vote-closing deadline. If the NLRB cannot, we will demand a re-vote, for it’s apparent that 2 and 1/2 weeks of shutdown delay gave a previously clear minority of “No” voters extra time and advantage to muster. All said, the Bentley vote is still a shocker. For many Bentley adjuncts have well-paying business jobs or are retired from them, and it seems painfully clear that most of them turned their backs on their impecunious peers in spite of their own supportive words to us. It’s a bit beyond belief that 100 of them went out of their way to vote against any workplace improvements for their fellows. Apparently the preposterous lines that “adjuncts help schools keep tuition costs down” (!) and “unions will divide our happy family” still have bite. Do they now support Northeastern’s hiring of union-busting law firm Jackson Lewis? For when your game is all about protecting obscene profit margins, it’s better to pay lawyers millions to keep people on their knees than to simply pay a survivable wage TO THE TEACHERS WHOSE LEARNING MAKE THE SCHOOL WHAT IT IS. This ain’t over, and one way or another the day of reckoning is coming.

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