Adjuncts Win Union Contract at Maryland Institute College of Art

Bruce Vail October 5, 2015

(bmoreart.com)

The nation­al move­ment to union­ize part-time fac­ul­ty at U.S. col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties has secured an ini­tial beach­head in the Bal­ti­more area with rat­i­fi­ca­tion of a first con­tract between Ser­vice Employ­ees Inter­na­tion­al Union Local 500 and the Mary­land Insti­tute Col­lege of Art (MICA). Vot­ing on the rat­i­fi­ca­tion con­clud­ed in mid-Sep­tem­ber and a for­mal sign­ing cer­e­mo­ny for the pact is set for Octo­ber 8, labor rep­re­sen­ta­tives report.

It’s the first union con­tract for any bar­gain­ing unit of part-time fac­ul­ty, or adjuncts, in the city’s greater met­ro­pol­i­tan area, where thou­sands of such work­ers are employed at about a dozen sim­i­lar pri­vate and pub­lic edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions. The over­whelm­ing rat­i­fi­ca­tion vote of 91 – 7 came fol­low­ing a pro­tract­ed con­tract nego­ti­a­tion ini­ti­at­ed when a union orga­niz­ing dri­ve won col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights for about 300 MICA adjuncts in April of last year.

But the strong vote in favor of rat­i­fi­ca­tion prob­a­bly came from union mem­bers more excit­ed about final­ly hav­ing a con­tract than the spe­cif­ic terms of the con­tract itself,” com­ments Joshua Smith, a MICA adjunct who served on the union nego­ti­at­ing com­mit­tee. The three-year con­tract falls short of mem­ber expec­ta­tions in sev­er­al key areas, he con­cedes. Yet many mem­bers also rec­og­nize that set­tling on a first con­tract is a vital step for­ward” to real­iz­ing the union’s long-term goals.

A desire for an across-the-board wage increase was frus­trat­ed, for exam­ple, by MICA admin­is­tra­tors who would only agree to an indi­rect approach to a mod­est raise in pay, Smith says. The new con­tract adapts an exist­ing pay scale — rang­ing from a low of $3,329 for a three-cred­it course to a high of $5,040 — to allow adjuncts to more eas­i­ly advance up the scale, while also pro­vid­ing an annu­al cost-of-liv­ing adjust­ment (COLA), Smith says.

The path­way to advance­ment is eas­i­er, plus the COLA, so there is some­thing for almost all the mem­bers. But the base is still too low and [the union has] to attack the pay inequity between vet­er­an, part-time and full-time fac­ul­ty” in the future, says Smith. (The full text of the agree­ment is avail­able online at the SEIU Local 500 web site.)

A state­ment sent out under the name of MICA Pres­i­dent Sam­my Hoi glossed over the pay issue and stressed the non-eco­nom­ic fea­tures of the contract:

The agree­ment cov­ers a wide range of sub­jects includ­ing changes to com­pen­sa­tion, cre­at­ing a pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment fund, estab­lish­ing stan­dards gov­ern­ing the appoint­ment and re-appoint­ment of part-time fac­ul­ty, and cre­at­ing an eval­u­a­tion process that will fos­ter con­tin­ued excel­lence in teaching. …

As an impor­tant step in pro­mot­ing sus­tain­abil­i­ty in high­er edu­ca­tion, this con­tract reflects MICA’s com­mit­ment to lead­er­ship and to the part-time fac­ul­ty in the MICA com­mu­ni­ty. MICA and Local 500 look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing to work togeth­er in the imple­men­ta­tion of this agree­ment and build­ing a strong, pro­fes­sion­al rela­tion­ship that will advance the inter­ests of our stu­dents and the MICA com­mu­ni­ty as a whole.

Debra Rubi­no, MICA’s Vice Pres­i­dent of Starte­gic Com­mu­ni­ca­tions adds: Pres­i­dent Hoi, along with all of the senior admin­is­tra­tion, are very sat­is­fied with this agreement.”

Hoi’s empha­sis on the inclu­sion of adjuncts in the broad­er aca­d­e­m­ic com­mu­ni­ty is a reflec­tion of union demands that part-timers be treat­ed as pro­fes­sion­als, Smith adds, and has been a con­sis­tent theme of adjunct orga­niz­ing through­out the coun­try. Local­ly, the demand is a fea­ture of an ongo­ing orga­niz­ing cam­paign at near­by Gouch­er Col­lege, where part-time fac­ul­ty are await­ing a Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Board deci­sion on the out­come of a close­ly con­test­ed union elec­tion there in late 2014.

Assumed­ly address­ing the Gouch­er union fight, the MICA orga­niz­ing com­mit­tee said in a state­ment, This MICA con­tract should cause oth­er insti­tu­tions of high­er edu­ca­tion in Bal­ti­more to think twice about their oppo­si­tion to col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing process. The time for for­mal nego­ti­a­tions on the sta­tus of adjuncts at MICA was long over­due, and, now that they have tak­en place, the col­lege is bet­ter for it. … A strong, active Part Time Fac­ul­ty Union is a plat­form for involve­ment in the future of MICA and the edu­ca­tion of its stu­dents. Any admin­is­tra­tion should wel­come that.”

The state­ment can also be read as a mes­sage to oth­er col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties in the region. Stir­rings of union sup­port for an adjuncts union are evi­dent at McDaniel Col­lege in West­min­ster, Mary­land, and also at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bal­ti­more, Smith says. Fur­ther­more, a coali­tion of unions includ­ing the Mary­land State Edu­ca­tion Asso­ci­a­tion, the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of State, Coun­ty and Munic­i­pal Employ­ees and SEIU Local 500 is agi­tat­ing for leg­is­la­tion to ease union­iza­tion of the state’s com­mu­ni­ty col­lege sys­tem.

Final­iz­ing a first con­tract at MICA is impor­tant to these efforts as well as to the MICA instruc­tors them­selves, Smith con­cludes, by demon­strat­ing that adjuncts can estab­lish new col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing units despite offi­cial oppo­si­tion. Baltimore’s cul­ture of treat­ing adjuncts as sec­ond-class aca­d­e­m­ic cit­i­zens needs to come to an end, he says, and the MICA con­tract is a hope­ful sign that the end is com­ing in to sight. 

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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