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

Bruce Vail August 30, 2016

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.

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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