Power in Numbers - Adjuncts turn to citywide organizing as their best hope

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

It’s the lull between Northeastern University’s afternoon and evening classes, and adjunct instructors drift in and out of a windowless room set aside for them in Ryder Hall. Lacking offices on campus, they come here to log on to shared computers or to grab books from shelved cardboard boxes that serve as their makeshift lockers.

Having to share a small workspace is just one of the many frustrations they share. They commiserate about meager earnings, unpredictable teaching loads, and their belief that a bloated administration gobbles up too much of the tuition revenue they help bring in.

Most of the instructors here decline to talk on the record, citing fears of being denied future contracts or otherwise punished for it. But Deborah O’Toole, a senior lecturer who earns about $2,200 per three-credit course teaching English to international students, is fed up enough to speak out. She argues that part-time faculty members like her are being abused and need to form collective-bargaining units if they want their concerns heard.

"Our hope is in the union," she says.

Such sentiments have put Boston at the center of a nationwide labor-organizing effort bent on changing the lives of all adjunct faculty members, unionized or not. Rather than simply try to establish unions of adjunct faculty at individual colleges, it seeks to unionize them throughout entire metropolitan areas, to drive broader improvements in their pay, benefits, and working conditions.

The approach seeks to shift labor-market dynamics, turning a buyer’s market in which colleges have broad leeway to set employment terms into a seller’s market in which adjuncts can take the highest bid for their services. The strategy assumes that college administrations will be less resistant to the formation of unions, and to union demands, if officials are assured that competing institutions are in the same boat.

The thinking behind the approach holds that sufficient union saturation of a given local labor market will not only produce big gains at unionized colleges, but put nonunionized ones under pressure to treat adjuncts better, too. Those colleges might be prompted to improve pay or working conditions to be able to compete for talent or, in some cases, to discourage potential unionization drives on their own campuses.

Read the full story here.