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Adjunct professors join steelworkers, auto workers to get organized

Non-tenure track and adjunct professors used to be the minority on college and university campuses. But now they're the majority. And, since they do not get benefits and have little or no job security, more and more are joining unions. Right now faculty (non-tenure track and adjunct) in D.C., Maryland, Ohio, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Washington State are organizing. And, they're joining forces with surprising partners -- unions not traditionally affiliated with education.

Tenure and non-tenure track professors haven't always gotten along.

"I've worked in places where I've walked down the hall and had full time faculty members just walk past me and not even look at me," says Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, a non-profit that works with non-tenure faculty. "Let's not even talk about talking about curriculum issues and trying to work together as colleagues... A caste system is how some people have actually described it."
 
That system is one reason Maisto says as more part time and adjunct professors have joined unions they have avoided the ones that are traditionally academic. In Pittsburgh, they've joined the Steelworkers Union. In New York, it's autoworkers, and in D.C., it's the Service Employees.

Kip Lornell, an adjunct professor at George Washington University, says when non-tenure professors at his school organized, they approached the American Federation of Teachers.
 
"We figured let's go to someplace that already represents teachers," he says. "We spoke with them and their reaction was that sounds interesting and that was the extent of their interest."

But Richard Boris, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College, says teachers unions may have simply been caught off gaurd.
 
"It's not that they were uneager, they didn't understand what was happening," he says. What was happening, Boris says, was part time and adjunct professors were taking over the profession. Traditionally 75 percent of teaching was done by full timers but the numbers have switched.

"This process occurred over the last15 years, in such small increments that no one quite figured out it was happening," Boris says.
 
But they've figured it out now. New Faculty Majority's Maria Maisto says traditional teachers unions are starting to welcome non-tenured members with open arms.

Editor's note: In addition to her reporting on Marketplace, Sally Herships is also an adjunct professor.
 

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.
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It is true that AFT has done a lot of important organizing of adjunct faculty over the years. And the NEA has an adjunct faculty caucus that is growing in strength and influence within that union. The AAUP now has adjunct faculty in national leadership positions. All of this has just not been enough to accommodate the explosive growth in adjunct numbers, nor the complexity and urgency of the issue on a national scale, nor the particularity of many adjuncts' local contexts. The emergence of non-union organizations like ours and of non-traditional unions like SEIU and others must be understood in that light.

As I stressed to Ms. Herships, the attitudes of tenure line faculty toward non-tenure-line faculty within institutions and within traditional unions are finally starting to change in significant ways, and this is leading to far more collaboration and collegiality among faculty of all ranks than has ever existed before -- good evidence is the emergence of the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education, a national, grassroots, inclusive (TT/NTT, traditional union/nontraditional union) coalition that is providing a strong voice for all faculty who care about quality and equality in higher education.

I provided a lot of information about this shift in addition to the history of how and why nontraditional faculty unions have emerged, but it could not be included in the story. It would be great if Marketplace could continue to cover this important issue and give its relevance to broader economic issues -- like the growing solidarity of workers across industries and classes -- the attention it really deserves. This story is a start but there is so much more to report!

The adjuncts at Portland Community College are represented by the AFT as are the full-timers, and it led to access to health, vision, and dental benefits for many of us adjuncts. They did a good job for us there. As an aside, when I graduated as an undergraduate, I worked as a chemist in a lab where the workers were represented by the Teamsters Union (it started as a dairy lab and the dairy drivers were all represented by the Teamsters Union), and we chemists had better wages and benefits than other labs. If you're part of the workforce, union representation can be beneficial.

This is a fantastic piece. Thank you. Please keep in mind that the adjunct faculty of the Community College System of New Hampshire with the weight of the SEA/SEIU who represent the Full Time faculty are entering their third year without a contract. The kind of momentum, courage, and leadership displayed over the last few decades but especially across 2013 (the Year of the Adjunct) must remain steady into the meetings with administrators and other bosses who will try to delay this process again and again.

For the record, this struggle is about creating a formidable education sector by way of a very simple equal pay for equal work imperative. I also hope we can all take a moment to reflect on just how much damage was inflicted on students, teachers, staff, families and the like by attempting to impose hyper corporate models (profit driven) on what is essential a non-profit, need-based system (people driven).

Actually, The American Federation of Teachers has been at the forefront of organizing part-time instructors, contrary to what this article suggests. Take a look at Michigan, where AFT has organized numerous part-time faculty unions. Please get your facts straight!!!!!!!

AFT -- still doesn't "play well with others" (lololol)

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