A Model Emerges

From Inside Higher Ed:

Service Employees International Union launched its Adjunct Action campaign less than two years ago, with an ambitious goal: take SEIU's metro-wide adjunct organizing effort in Washington, D.C. -- which took years to establish -- national, and fast. Drives were soon happening from Boston to San Francisco, leading to a dozen new unions.

Now Adjunct Action is touting its first successful contract negotiation, and adjuncts at Tufts University outside Boston are saying it could serve a model for the many contract negotiations happening elsewhere.

Highlights include significant pay increases, longer-term contracts and -- perhaps most meaningfully -- the right to be interviewed for full-time positions in one’s department.

“We were definitely aware of the scope of the national problem and we wanted to be able to do something that would be helpful, both in terms of being a genuine response to our needs for pay parity and better working conditions, and also for a more respect for what we do,” said Elizabeth Lemons, a 16-year Tufts adjunct instructor of religion who participated in the negotiations.

Tufts adjuncts voted last fall to form a union affiliated with SEIU. They were the first in the Boston area to do so, followed by Lesley and Northeastern Universities. Organizing is under way at Boston University, while a proposed union at Bentley University was voted down. SEIU has seen similar successes at campuses in cities as far away as Seattle; most recently, adjuncts at Washington University in St. Louis filed for a union electionThe St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. 

Lemons said she and her colleagues started off in a better position than many of their peers across the city and the country; Tufts adjuncts teaching three or more courses per semester get health care and other benefits, for example, and Tufts is a relatively wealthy institution. But they still faced low pay and poor working conditions compared to their tenure-line colleagues, she said.

Still, it was important for union members to keep negotiations civil and positive, Lemons said. So they started not by talking about contract goals but about Tufts’ educational values, to build common ground with university representatives. They also highlighted best practices for adjunct employment already in place in some departments at Tufts.

The result was a nonconfrontational, even collaborative process, Lemons and other adjuncts said -- and a contract that includes significant gains for part-time faculty.

According to the collective bargaining agreement, union members will have at least one-year contracts. And by the end of the three-year agreement, lecturers with more than four years of service will be eligible for two-year appointments. Those with more than eight years of service will be eligible for three-year contracts. That provides much more job security than many adjuncts had previously. Lemons said that while at least half the members of the 200-person bargaining unit have worked at Tufts for seven or more years, until now they could still be hired on a semester-to-semester basis.

Read the full story here.