Seattle may have become one of the first cities to pass a $15 minimum wage last year, but the city’s adjunct instructors say that the dictum for fair pay has yet to penetrate the Ivory Tower.
The median pay for adjuncts, who as professional workers are exempt from most minimum wage and overtime protections, is $2,700 per course nationwide, or just over $16,000 annually for a full teaching load. At Seattle University (SU), the city’s premier Jesuit college, they are paid as little as $2,200 per course, according to crowdsourced data from the Adjunct Project. When all the hours spent grading, meeting with students and preparing for class are factored in, the school’s instructors say that this likely amounts to less than minimum wage—a claim echoed by adjuncts instructors nationwide.
As a result, the “Fight for 15” is now headed to college, as adjunct instructors at SU and a host of other schools press for union representation, a wage bump and expanded job protections for contingent faculty who often live course to course, with no long-term contract or track to tenure. Last month, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) announced a new nationwide “Faculty Forward” campaign that will push for a minimum compensation standard of $15,000 per college course taught, plus benefits. That figure would represent a dramatic increase over adjunct instructors’ current pay, but the same was true when SEIU-affiliated groups began demanding $15 for fast-food workers three years ago. Could the Fight for 15 gain traction in the academy?
Thou Shalt Not Unionize
Momentum for adjunct justice is building in the wake of National Adjunct Walkout Day on February 25, when faculty members and supporters at more than 100 campuses nationwide held walkouts, teach-ins and rallies. At Seattle University, adjunct instructors say about 400 faculty and students participated in a walkout and march through campus. Now, a string of recent decisions by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is likely to provide a boost to the campaignby clearing a path for new adjunct unions at SU and a host of other schools.