We've Formed an Adjunct Union. Now What?

From Chronicle Vitae:

WashingtonGeorge Washington University’s part-time faculty union has made some real gains since it was formed in 2006: It negotiated a minimum payment of $3,500 per three-credit-hour course, secured a supplemental retirement plan and a medical leave of absence, and designated a small pool of money for adjuncts to pursue professional development.

One thing the union hasn’t quite figured out, though, is how to get more of its members to chip in. Participation is one of the biggest challenges the group faces, says Kip Lornell, an adjunct professor of music who is among the union’s leaders.

In the heady days before a vote to unionize, it’s not hard to find willing adjuncts.

That changes after the election has passed, Mr. Lornell says. “It becomes: ‘How much time will this be?’ ‘How involved must I be?’ Getting people to commit to doing these things is a big problem.”

Yet what happens after the election is the more important story, says Malini Cadambi Daniel, national higher-education campaign director for the Service Employees International Union, which has been the driving force behind many recent adjunct-unionization campaigns. “The election is just one point on the uphill slope,” she says. “It’s not the top.”

But what is “the top,” or the mark of a successful union? At a time when adjuncts around the country are weighing unionization, and some administrators are arguing that unions won’t achieve better results at the bargaining table, it’s a question worth exploring.

And the Washington, D.C., area is a good place to do so. Since the hard-won victory at George Washington University, adjuncts at Georgetown, American, and Howard Universities and the University of the District of Columbia have all voted to join SEIU’s Local 500. The union, which also represents part-time professors at two institutions in Maryland, plans to eventually create one metrowide contract agreement.

After a protracted dispute with the administration over election results, adjuncts at George Washington settled their first contract agreement in 2008. It was new territory for all parties, but the initial contract was strong, Mr. Lornell says. The group raised the minimum rate of pay per course by as much as 32 percent in some departments, introduced a “just cause” agreement to ensure adjuncts couldn’t be dismissed without reason, and secured more benefits, among other things.

Read the full story online here.