Temple’s Adjunct Faculty to Join Thousands of Others in Citywide Union

Kevin Solari

On December 17 the UAP filed with the PLRB. It expects to hold elections in the Spring Semester.

On Decem­ber 17, adjunct fac­ul­ty at Tem­ple Uni­ver­si­ty in Philadel­phia com­plet­ed their card count and applied to the Penn­syl­va­nia Labor Rela­tions Board for union sta­tus. They are seek­ing to orga­nize with the Unit­ed Aca­d­e­mics of Philadel­phia (UAP), the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers (AFT) local for adjunct fac­ul­ty, and the Tem­ple Asso­ci­a­tion of Uni­ver­si­ty Offi­cials, the AFT union for Temple’s full-time faculty.

The uni­ver­si­ty employs approx­i­mate­ly 1,100 adjunct instruc­tors. The UAP required sig­na­tures from 60 per­cent of the fac­ul­ty to apply for authorization.

Eliz­a­beth Spencer, a cre­ative writ­ing instruc­tor at Tem­ple Uni­ver­si­ty, said in a state­ment that the win would ben­e­fit both teach­ers and stu­dents: Being able to nego­ti­ate over mean­ing­ful job secu­ri­ty and know­ing whether I’ll be able to return to Tem­ple next semes­ter will improve the edu­ca­tion­al expe­ri­ence for my students.”

Teach­ing as an adjunct can be a chaot­ic expe­ri­ence. Instruc­tors often work at mul­ti­ple cam­pus­es, have class­es added or can­celled at the last minute and are almost always uncer­tain whether or not they will even be teach­ing the fol­low­ing semes­ter. In addi­tion to the posi­tions’ con­stant uncer­tain­ty, most adjuncts lack decent wages or ben­e­fits. Yet this work­force makes up a large per­cent­age of fac­ul­ty across the coun­try and, at some insti­tu­tions, is respon­si­ble for teach­ing as much as 60 per­cent of courses.

As a result, adjuncts in recent years have been work­ing togeth­er in a con­cert­ed effort to orga­nize. The AFT and the Ser­vice Employ­ees Inter­na­tion­al Union (SEIU) have been exper­i­ment­ing with a new strat­e­gy of orga­niz­ing city­wide, not just indi­vid­ual cam­pus­es. UAP, for instance, has not only mem­bers from Tem­ple, but from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia, Bryn Mawr, Swarth­more, Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege of Philadel­phia, and St. Joseph’s.

SEIU’s pro­gram, Adjunct Action, has suc­ceed­ed in secur­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion for adjuncts at schools in Wash­ing­ton D.C., Los Ange­les and Boston. At North­east­ern Uni­ver­si­ty in Boston, the instruc­tors won against a uni­ver­si­ty that hired the noto­ri­ous union bust­ing law firm of Jack­son Lewis. And on Decem­ber 16, the Nation­al Labor Rela­tion Board issued a deci­sion that would allow adjunct fac­ul­ty at Pacif­ic Luther­an Uni­ver­si­ty, in Taco­ma, Wash­ing­ton, to join SEIU local 925. As dif­fi­cult as pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties have been to orga­nize, pri­vate schools have been even more resistant.

These suc­cess­es are begin­ning to pro­duce the kind of sta­bil­i­ty adjuncts are look­ing for. When Tufts Uni­ver­si­ty nego­ti­at­ed with its adjunct fac­ul­ty this fall, the agree­ment gave adjunct fac­ul­ty sta­ble one-year con­tracts, and with more expe­ri­ence they can become eli­gi­ble for two and three-year con­tracts. It also increased pay by 40 per­cent and revamps the eval­u­a­tion process to focus on improve­ment, not punishment.

At Tem­ple, Spencer looked for­ward to hav­ing that same sta­bil­i­ty. By nego­ti­at­ing a fair con­tract with Tem­ple, I know I’m work­ing toward pro­vid­ing sta­bil­i­ty for my family.”

Kevin is an edu­ca­tor and free­lance writer in Chica­go. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @kevinsolari_.
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