Nearly 1400 contingent professors in the Bay Area will be heading into 2015 with something they have not had yet in their careers: a union, and hope for improvements in their tenuous working conditions.
Roughly 400 contingent faculty at St. Mary’s College in Moraga and almost 300 at Dominican University in San Rafael have become the newest members of SEIU Local 1021. Votes were counted at the National Labor Relations Board on December 29, with sizable majorities at both schools voting for the union. These schools also represent the fourth and fifth private nonprofit colleges in the Bay Area to form adjunct faculty unions through the national Adjunct Action campaign, joining over 21,000 adjuncts who are already members of SEIU. Another 700 adjunct faculty at Mills College, San Francisco Art Institute and California College of the Arts have all joined SEIU Local 1021 this year, and are all currently in various stages of contract negotiations.
Unionization has already provided adjuncts with improved compensation, increased access to benefits and measures of job security such as longer-term contracts at many institutions of higher education throughout the country, including at Tufts, Georgetown, George Washington University and American University, to name just a few.
“I believe that in taking action and forming a union at Dominican, that adjunct faculty can, as they have in universities across the country, find our path to fairer and more just terms of employment. I also deeply believe that when individuals receive better treatment, equal compensation, access to opportunity and employment security, all benefit: faculty, students, their families, institutions and society as a whole,” said Lise Stampfli Torme, an adjunct instructor of communications at Dominican University. “Some of our students today will compose our faculty of tomorrow. I'd like to see them inherit a future that embraces and demonstrates principles of social justice and equity, a future that offers greater opportunity, recognizes contributions and rewards efforts.”
Even as SEIU Local 1021 works with adjunct faculty to organize their new unions and negotiate first contracts addressing their needs and priorities, the union is also striving to improve conditions for unorganized workers and reduce income inequality. SEIU 1021 spearheaded initiatives this year that raised the minimum wage in Oakland, Richmond and San Francisco, which will now have the highest minimum wage in the country. We have brought attention to income inequality in the region and fought back against tax breaks for profitable corporations like Twitter and Chevron that take away from the services most needed by local residents, while supporting strikes by fast food workers struggling for respect and a living wage.
Adjunct professors, who now represent a large majority of all college faculty nationwide, are just one more new face of low-wage workers in the United States, and are living proof that “doing everything right” (e.g., pursuing advanced degrees and dedicating oneself to public service) is no longer enough to ensure a middle class life. Adjunct professors, much like fast food workers and other low-wage, contingent workers, are learning that they must join forces, stand up and make their collective voices heard in order to bring about the systemic changes that will improve working and living conditions for themselves, their families and their communities now and into the future.
Adjunct faculty from Dominican University celebrate following their victory December 29.