How Barnard Contingent Faculty Won Their First Contract

Gerard Di Trolio April 18, 2017

Barnard Contingent Faculty UAW Local 2110 (BCF-UAW) is made up of about 200 adjunct professors and term faculty, predominantly women. (Barnard Contingent Faculty-UAW Local 2110/ Facebook)

The con­tin­gent fac­ul­ty at Barnard Col­lege have won their first con­tract, adding anoth­er vic­to­ry for pre­car­i­ous aca­d­e­m­ic work­ers across the country.

Barnard Con­tin­gent Fac­ul­ty-UAW Local 2110 (BCF-UAW) is made up of about 200 adjunct pro­fes­sors and term fac­ul­ty, pre­dom­i­nant­ly women. It was cer­ti­fied back in Octo­ber 2015 and had been nego­ti­at­ing with Barnard’s admin­is­tra­tion since Feb­ru­ary of last year.

In Decem­ber, after get­ting nowhere, union mem­bers vot­ed by an over­whelm­ing major­i­ty — 89 per­cent — in sup­port of a strike. A strike date was set for Feb­ru­ary 21, and a ten­ta­tive agree­ment was reached with just five days to spare. On March 26, BCF-UAW announced that a five-year con­tract had been rat­i­fied by its mem­ber­ship. More than 90 per­cent vot­ed in favor.

I think it’s a strong con­tract. In some ways we had to com­pro­mise and there’s room for improve­ment but we have a very good first con­tract and it cre­ates a foun­da­tion for us mov­ing for­ward,” says Siob­han Burke, a Barnard grad­u­ate and adjunct lec­tur­er of dance, who also sits on BCF-UAW’s bar­gain­ing committee. 

The main issues for mem­bers were wages, ben­e­fits, work­load and job security.

Adjuncts will now get $7,000 per three-cred­it course, instead of the cur­rent aver­age of $6,000, and that will increase to $10,000 over the course of the con­tract. Full-time term pro­fes­sors will have a min­i­mum salary of $60,000, ris­ing to $70,000 with­in five years.

Adjuncts will also have access to health­care for the first time, with those teach­ing six or more cred­its in an aca­d­e­m­ic year receiv­ing a 50 per­cent con­tri­bu­tion from Barnard for med­ical insur­ance costs.

And in the area of job secu­ri­ty, adjuncts will have access to some sev­er­ance and be able to receive mul­ti-year appoint­ments. They will also receive ear­li­er noti­fi­ca­tion of their teach­ing sta­tus and course loads, under the new contract.

We are pleased that the Barnard Con­tin­gent Fac­ul­ty union has rat­i­fied its first con­tract, which reflects the College’s deep respect for union mem­bers’ sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to our com­mu­ni­ty. We look for­ward to con­tin­ue build­ing a strong part­ner­ship with our con­tin­gent fac­ul­ty, to ensure our stu­dents and our aca­d­e­m­ic pro­gram flour­ish,” Provost Lin­da Bell said in a statement.

Mobi­liz­ing membership

BCF-UAW’s vic­to­ry was in large part due to its mobi­liz­ing strategy.

At each key step of the way — par­tic­u­lar­ly orga­niz­ing the strike autho­riza­tion vote and prepar­ing for a strike — we reached out to our mem­bers through phone bank­ing, email, social media, infor­ma­tion­al meet­ings and one-on-one con­ver­sa­tions on cam­pus. Because many adjuncts jug­gle mul­ti­ple jobs, it’s a chal­leng­ing group to orga­nize. They’re pulled in many direc­tions. So stay­ing in con­tact, keep­ing peo­ple informed and main­tain­ing open lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion was essen­tial,” says Burke.

Barnard went to sig­nif­i­cant lengths to have con­tract nego­ti­a­tions go its way. The col­lege hired noto­ri­ous union bust­ing law firm Jack­son Lewis, and a fed­er­al medi­a­tor was brought in, show­ing how fraught the nego­ti­a­tions were.

Burke cau­tions that how Barnard respects the con­tract remains to be seen.

Will they try to cre­ate new job titles that are out­side the recog­ni­tion clause of our con­tract? And find ways around the con­tract? Based on the process we went through, I would­n’t be sur­prised,” she said.

Stu­dent support

Anoth­er major fac­tor in BCF-UAW’s vic­to­ry was the role of stu­dent activism. When a pos­si­ble strike was on the hori­zon, Barnard stu­dents mobi­lized to pres­sure the admin­is­tra­tion through the Stu­dent-Work­er Sol­i­dar­i­ty (SWS) organization.

In Jan­u­ary and Feb­ru­ary, we start­ed door knock­ing in the dorms and gath­ered more than 700 sig­na­tures on a stu­dent peti­tion. At the same time, we encour­aged stu­dents to get their par­ents to call the pres­i­dent and provost of the col­lege,” says Meghan Bro­phy, a Barnard stu­dent and SWS mem­ber. It was a good way to talk to stu­dents who did­n’t know what was hap­pen­ing or who were only read­ing emails from the admin­is­tra­tion. I think we learned a lot of prac­ti­cal orga­niz­ing skills from that expe­ri­ence, and it helped us remem­ber to real­ly see what infor­ma­tion we need­ed to pub­li­cize more.”

The group also spear­head­ed a num­ber of actions like hav­ing stu­dents line the halls that Barnard’s bar­gain­ing team had to trav­el down to reach the nego­ti­at­ing table, orga­nized march­es and helped to cir­cu­late a peti­tion among alumni.

The admin­is­tra­tion tries all these divide-and-con­quer tac­tics like pit­ting finan­cial aid and cam­pus pro­grams against liv­ing wages and ben­e­fits for con­tin­gent fac­ul­ty. We want to show we will be unit­ed and not divid­ed by all these tac­tics,” said Brophy.

The irony behind an elite wom­en’s col­lege try­ing to stonewall a bar­gain­ing unit that is pre­dom­i­nant­ly women was not lost on students.

When Barnard says that it advo­cates for women, espe­cial­ly women in the acad­e­my and high­er edu­ca­tion, they’re speak­ing about a very spe­cif­ic sub­set of women,” said Bec­ca Bres­law, a Barnard stu­dent and SWS mem­ber. There are a lot of lead­ers that have come out of Barnard that they push for us that rep­re­sent this cor­po­rate fem­i­nist appeal rather than advo­cat­ing for all women, espe­cial­ly work­ing-class women.”

Ger­ard Di Tro­lio is an edi­tor for rankand​file​.ca. He has writ­ten for Jacobin, Bri­arpatch and else­where, and lives in Toron­to. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @gerardditrolio.
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