Adjunct and part-time contract faculty win union vote
Editor's note: this article has been updated in the January 12 issue of the Justice.
Adjunct and part-time contract faculty joined the Faculty Forward division of the Service Employees International Union Local 509 on Dec. 18, creating the first-ever collective bargaining unit on campus for non-tenure track faculty. The members of the new bargaining unit voted through mailed-in ballots that were tallied that morning. They will now begin to formally organize a list of demands for future contract negotiations with the University, in which they will be represented by SEIU Local 509.
In total, 81.2 percent of the adjunct and contract faculty who will be represented by the union participated in the vote, SEIU spokesman Jason Stephany said in a phone interview with the Justice. The pro-union votes won by a margin of four to one, with 120 votes in favor of joining Faculty Forward and 28 opposed.
The union will represent all part-time contract and adjunct faculty, but not full-time, non-tenure-track faculty. According to Stephany, however, some full-time, non-tenure-track faculty are now beginning discussions about unionizing as well. These conversations are in the early stages, so it is unknown whether the full-time faculty would be represented by SEIU Local 509 as well.
Approximately 200 faculty members will be a part of the bargaining unit for adjuncts and part-time contract faculty, though this number may vary from semester to semester based on visiting faculty, Stephany said. SEIU Local 509 will negotiate with the University on behalf of these employees to form collective agreements on issues that the part-time faculty and adjuncts decide on.
The vote was conducted through the mail, and the final tally was tabulated at the National Labor Relations Board Boston office the morning of Dec. 18.
Two members of the University administration and two members of the new bargaining unit observed as NLRB representatives opened letters mailed in by potential union members and read off whether the mailer had checked “yes” or “no” when asked whether they supported the union.
Prof. Amy Todd (RABB), one of the faculty witnesses, told the Justice in a phone interview that “the standards are very high in this process in the sense that it is a secret ballot. … We don’t touch the ballots, the organizers, at all. It’s all National Labor Relations Board [representatives] that count. And that’s what they did today, they opened the ballots and counted very publicly, very carefully. I was very impressed with the process.”
The key organizers of the Brandeis bargaining unit, who have called themselves Brandeis Faculty Forward throughout the process, must now determine what their priorities will be in future negotiations with the administration. Todd told the Justice that the group already sent out a preliminary survey to all potential members of the bargaining unit, and a more detailed survey will follow in January. Part of the January survey will ask bargaining unit members to fill in an open-ended list of their top priorities in future contracts and rank these priorities from most to least important. The organizers will also hold open meetings with faculty to gather feedback, according to Todd.
“Typically, of course, job security is very high on the list [of priorities],” she said. Todd is a full-time faculty member at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where faculty are represented by the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the same union that represents public K-12 teachers and public universities in Boston. She has also served on a bargaining team for UMass Boston. “Cost of living raises and compensation are [usually] very high on the list,” she said. “And health insurance and other benefits.”
The University addressed the vote results in a campuswide email from Interim Provost Irving Epstein which said only that the vote was in favor of the union by a margin of 120-28, and that “We [the University] look forward to working with the SEIU to reach a collective bargaining agreement for these employees.”
“I think we’re all very excited that we won our union, and by such a wide margin, and are feeling very optimistic going forward as we move into contract negotiations,” Todd said. “Now the real work really begins to build a very participatory union with as much engagement as possible from members, from the rank and file members. And I look forward to that.”
An earlier version of this article misstated that the Massachusetts Teachers Association represents public "grade school teachers." It represents K-12 educators and faculty at public colleges and universities.