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.