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Working In These Times

Tuesday, Aug 30, 2016, 6:10 pm

Part-Time Faculty Union On a Roll in Washington-Baltimore Area

BY Bruce Vail

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At McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland, adjuncts surprised school administrators with a strong pro-union vote. Shown here are organizing committee members Bob Seidel, Pamela Zappardino and Charles Colyer. (SEIU Local 500)  

BALTIMORE—Enduring more than 18 months of delays, part-time faculty members at Goucher College officially won their right to a union this month when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) finally counted disputed votes from a 2014 election.

The NLRB certified the final tally as 40 votes in favor of union representation, with 36 against. It’s a major step forward for the Goucher Faculty Union, an arm of Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500.

As reported by In These Times, the pro-union adjuncts had initially appeared to have won a quick victory. But Goucher administrators challenged some pro-union votes. So confirmation of the victory was delayed until August 18, when the NLRB finally ruled in favor of the union.

The delay has succeeded in interrupting the momentum of the campaign, admits Goucher adjunct Rollie Hudson, although he is quick to add that the pro-union forces are in no way deterred or discouraged.

“This is democracy. We have won this right (to have a union) but we haven’t exercised the right yet,” he says.

The original union organizing committee “has been greatly reduced,” Hudson says, as some activists were not rehired, and others left the Baltimore area to pursue other opportunities.

“We have to have an educational campaign—an internal process of discussion—before we can initiate contract discussion,” with college administrators, he says. The first step will be to conduct a bargaining survey to determine the priorities of the membership for union action.

Hudson, who teaches film and video, says he has no idea when contract negotiations to cover about 120 part-time and non-tenure-track, full-time Goucher professors will start.

No such hesitation exists among adjuncts at McDaniel College, in nearby Westminster, Maryland, says Pamela Zappardino, a 15-year teaching veteran at the small liberal arts school. Bargaining is set to begin following a June election victory that saw 82 votes in favor a union, with 36 opposed. Like the Goucher group, the McDaniel Adjunct Faculty Union is working hand-in-glove with SEIU Local 500.

Job security is the number one contract issue, Zappardino says, although job security and compensation questions tell only part of the story. The part-timers “want to be included in the campus community,” she says.

“We felt we were seen as a necessity (for normal college operations) but not respected for what we did,” says Zappardino.

Unlike Goucher, McDaniel administrators did not launch a full-throated campaign against the union.

“They sent out some e-mails, but it was not high pressure. They spoke to the full-time faculty, and told them they shouldn’t take sides. I think they felt confident that the union would not be successful,” Zappardino says. “I think the administration was a little surprised,” when the union won.

SEIU had another victory at about the same time in Washington, D.C., where adjuncts at Trinity Washington University voted 74-54 for the union, according to Anne McLeer, director of research and strategic planning at Local 500.

The three recent election victories will add about 650 members to the part-time faculty in Washington, D.C. and Maryland represented by Local 500, bringing that total number up to well above 3,000, McLeer says. These include union groups at American University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Howard University, Maryland Institute College of Art, Montgomery College and the University of the District of Columbia.

Other unions like the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association also represent part-time faculty in places around the country. AFT is said to be the largest higher education union nationwide, claiming about 100,000 members who work as adjuncts or non-tenure-track, full-time instructors (including graduate students) at colleges and universities in various states. AFT had a win last year among adjuncts at Temple University in Philadelphia. 

The pace of organizing remains intense, McLeer says. Campaigns for adjunct unions are underway at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and at George Mason University. No election dates have been set for the campaigns at those schools.

Successes in organizing adjuncts notwithstanding, attention may be shifting to unionization efforts by graduate students, says McLeer. Student organizers are energized by the August 23 NLRB decision that graduate students and research assistants employed at private colleges and universities have the right to form unions, she says.

“We’ve talked to a lot of grad students. They are so ready,” McLeer says.

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Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA's Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper's New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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