California Colleges See Surge in Efforts to Unionize Adjunct Faculty

FromĀ LA Times:

A wave of union organizing at college campuses across California and the nation in recent months is being fueled by part-time faculty who are increasingly discontented over working conditions and a lack of job security.

At nearly a dozen private colleges in California, adjunct professors are holding first-time contract negotiations or are campaigning to win the right to do so. Those instructors complain of working semester to semester without knowing whether they will be kept on, lacking health benefits and in some cases having to commute among several campuses to make a living.

While union activists say they look forward to better working terms and a greater voice in how campuses are governed, many college administrators say they are worried that such union contracts could mean less flexibility in academic hiring and higher tuition costs.

Service Employees International Union chapters in the Los Angeles area and in Northern California this week won faculty elections to represent part-time professors at Otis College of Art and Design in Westchester and Dominican University of California in San Rafael, and part-timers and non-permanent full-timers at St. Mary's College of California in Moraga. In recent months, the union succeeded in hard-fought votes among part-time faculty at Whittier College, Mills College and California College of the Arts in Oakland, San Francisco Art Institute and Laguna College of Art and Design.

Andrea Bowers, who has taught one or two courses a semester at Otis for the last five years, said she typically is paid $3,000 for each class in public arts practice and other fine arts subjects plus $1,000 to mentor students' studio work. She also juggles a professional art career and teaching assignments elsewhere.

"A living wage is really crucial," she said. "It's no surprise that the SEIU is simultaneously organizing McDonald's workers and part-time college teachers."

Beyond any improvements in pay and more predictability in knowing whether teaching jobs will last beyond the academic year, she said a union contract would force schools to be more transparent about their budgets. If colleges and faculty work together to solve financial problems, "that would be wonderful," Bowers said.

The vote at Otis, announced Tuesday by the National Labor Relations Board, was 77 to 70, a smaller margin of victory than at most of the other schools. Jon McNutt, an attorney for Otis, said the close tally showed that there are "a lot of very strong opinions on both sides" about unionization, but he said that the college will accept the results and negotiate in good faith toward the first contract for part-time faculty.

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