Fighting For an Adjunct Union in San Francisco

Adjunct Action Bay Area

Adjunct professors at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) are attempting to unionize under the SEIU’s metro-organizing strategy, which is now spreading across major cities of the west coast. It’s another exciting opportunity for the successful higher ed organizing group Adjunct Action.

But SFAI administrators are fighting the union drive. The school has hired attorney Ron Holland to represent it. A bio of Holland explains that his practice “focuses exclusively on representing management in traditional labor law and employment law issues.” The union-busting campaign is underway according to Jennifer Smith-Camejo, who works in the communications department of SEIU Local 1021.

Adjuncts at the school are fighting back against the anti-union rhetoric being disseminated by SFAI and their attorney. Some have written on their personal blogs about the opposition they’ve faced, and a tumblr page has also been created to keep people posted on the latest updates. The tumblr links to a petition that anyone can sign to show support for the right to vote.

Students and teachers from SFAI and other area schools will be meeting over the next few days on and off campus to discuss the next steps.

For more information about the union effort at the San Francisco Art Institute, contact:

Jennifer Smith-Camejo, SEIU Local 1021

Adjuncts on the Diane Rehm Show

Diane Rehm Show

The Diane Rehm show out of Washington, DC featured an important segment on adjunct professors this week. The public radio show has an estimated 1.7 million listeners. On the show Wednesday were Maria Maisto, executive director of New Faculty Majority, and Peter Schmidt who authored the recent Chronicle of Higher Education piece on the Adjunct Action national adjunct union.

The hour-long show gives a solid background on the current state of academic labor, and it also gives Maisto and Schmidt a great platform to explain the problem.  Some good discussions came from listeners, as well, who called into the show in order to weigh in on the adjunct issue.

Other guests on the show included two academic administrators who did their best to obscure the problem and deflect the issue by obfuscating and shifting blame, but Maisto handles them well by continuing to return to the real problems.

I love seeing adjuncts’ media presence continue to spread into more mainstream outlets. The adjunct problem really speaks for itself, so the key is just getting this message to a broader audience.

Lots of good tweets and comments posted on the piece, as well.

Check out the whole conversation on the Diane Rehm Show website.

Hey Unions! Wake Up!

Union Dependence

Yesterday I was unabashedly pro-union. Today I’m going to play a bit of a skeptic.

That’s pretty much the way I’ve always dealt with unions. I like them in theory, but I sometimes wonder how much they actually do for their members. I think it’s good to challenge the union occasionally to keep it working hard for the people.

I have a little union experience myself actually. My first paycheck came from a union job. I bagged groceries at Kroger, and I paid union dues out of every paycheck. $4.23 a week. That was 1996 and I was sixteen years old.

As far as I could tell the main thing we got in exchange for our membership was a due process system that basically made it impossible to be fired. Stealing was about the only justifiable cause for a supervisor to can one of us.

Truth be told, most of my fellow baggers and cashiers—myself included—deserved to be fired at least once a week, but the management’s hands were tied. I remember thinking it was kind of absurd that our jobs were that locked down. I witnessed aggressive insubordination and drug-fueled, on-the-job antics that always went unpunished. All in exchange for $4.23 a week.

I’m sure there were serious grievances also being filed, but I never heard about any during the two years I crammed groceries into paper or plastic. The union system seemed like it was just existing. Just feeding off the corporation in some kind of asymbiotic state of dependence.

These are the times when I question the value of unions. When they seem to have stagnated and just gotten comfortable making very small token gains occasionally—just enough to project the illusion of helpfulness so people will continue paying dues.

On Monday, the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources released a new report known as the “Two-Year Institution Faculty-Salary Survey” that details pay raises for faculty members at community colleges and other two-year institutions. The report indicates that many faculty unions at two-year colleges are existing in the same kind of comfortable “maintenance mode” that my union at Kroger occupied.

Salaries at schools with faculty unions increased by 2.1% this year. No issue with that number per se—a raise is always a good thing. The problem is that this salary increase is almost identical to the average salary increase for faculty members at schools without faculty unions. Salaries at these schools were up 1.9% this year.

So what exactly did the unions do here? When it comes to salaries, not much. Professors did just fine without the unions and they didn’t have to pay dues, so they probably actually came out ahead financially.

Obviously there are lots of intangible benefits to having union representation. Job security for professors is probably more of a concern than it was for me and my grocery-bagging buddies, for one. And sometimes just having a union stand behind you keeps potential management bullies at bay. No question that’s also a valuable benefit that shouldn’t be denied. But is it enough to make it all worth it?

Despite my critiques, I’m of course pro-union. I think faculty unions are almost always a good idea, but I do think it’s important to shake them up a little bit from time to time. Make sure they haven’t fallen asleep and gotten comfortable living off the system. When a union is making salary gains identical to those at non-unionized schools, that’s a red flag and it should be explored more deeply.

Adjunct Action Continues to Gain Strength

Adjunct Action Continues to Gain Strength

There’s an excellent piece up today at The Chronicle of Higher Education on adjunct professor faculty unions. No sense trying to replicate the top notch reporting that Peter Schmidt has done regarding Adjunct Action and the SEIU. Just head over to The Chronicle‘s site and read the article.

Peter Schmidt is a senior reporter at The Chronicle, and he is the newspaper’s specialist on faculty unions. His stuff is always worth reading, but this in-depth piece of reporting on the work of Adjunct Action is especially strong.

Ever since I saw the Adjunct Action Twitter account a year or so ago, I knew the group was on to something big. I’ve been an outspoken proponent of their work since day one. The first unionization victories in Washington, DC led to the “metro-organizing” strategy which seeks to unite adjuncts by region rather than by school.

This makes much more sense because the turnover rate for adjuncts at a given school can be relatively high—too high to count on the strength generated by the adjunct numbers alone. Plus, if an administration found a way to force out a group of adjuncts, the union would be significantly weakened.

Not so with the metro-organizing strategy because this union gains strength from several area universities and is therefore less affected by the staffing changes at any one school.

It was this metro-organizing approach, in particular, that caught my attention. Since those early days, I’ve watched with excitement as Adjunct Action has spread from city to city: DC, Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, St, Louis, and others. New cities are being added regularly to the group’s organizing roadmap.

Adjunct Action is the closest thing I’ve seen to a national union for adjunct professors. Lots of promise and potential here. I’ll continue to promote the organization and relish its victories as it spreads across the country.

Unfortunately, as a southerner, there isn’t much chance a union will come my way in the near future. But I will, of course, be cheering on the successes of my colleagues in the north, midwest, and west coast as Adjunct Action continues to grow and gain strength.

It’s Time for the AAUP to Get Serious About Adjunct Pay

Combined Operations

Despite increased attention on the plight of adjunct professors, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is still showing its bias against this professorial underclass.

The 2013-2014 AAUP Faculty Salary Survey data was released today and, just as in years past, it does not include a category for adjunct professor pay. This despite the fact that adjuncts and other non-tenure-track professors now make up the majority of the professoriate.

As this report reveals, tenure-track faculty members are still prioritized in the AAUP’s salary data. By the AAUP’s own statistics, tenure-track faculty make up only about 30% of professors now. The AAUP’s continued ignorance of the majority in their annual salary data is inexcusable.

To be fair, the AAUP has begun to get much more involved in the fair pay for adjuncts fight. They’re getting better. Now it’s time to start treating adjuncts like a part of the university by including them in the salary data survey. Adjunct salary should no longer be invisible.

No doubt one reason for the absent adjunct salary information is its relative difficulty to collect. Adjunct pay varies widely. Even adjuncts at the same university can earn different salaries based on how many classes they teach. It’s definitely not easy to glean that kind of information from the universities or even from the adjuncts themselves. But it can be done, as the Adjunct Project has proven.

The data exists; it’s just a matter of how much time and resources the AAUP is willing to invest in order to obtain that data. If the organization continues to ignore this huge swath of its constituency, it will lose relevance among the majority of faculty members. Why would adjuncts be interested in joining an organization that ignores them?

How the AAUP Can Include Adjuncts in the Annual Salary Report

Here are some steps the AAUP can take in order to start being more inclusive of the majority of professors in its salary data report.

  1. The AAUP should create a category for adjunct pay and list it on a per course basis. This would alleviate the problem of varying adjunct salaries due to teaching load. Readers can extrapolate full-time equivalents based on these per course numbers.
  2. Partner with the Adjunct Project in order to take advantage of existing salary numbers. The Adjunct Project currently has about 7,400 self-reported entries on adjunct pay and counting.
  3. Designate a dedicated researcher to contact schools directly and inquire about adjunct faculty pay. All it would take is a couple hundred schools to report their adjunct pay information in order to get a reasonable data set. This might also put pressure on other schools to divulge their information.
  4. At the very least, the AAUP should acknowledge in this annual salary report that it is missing salary numbers for 70% of the professoriate. Not acknowledging this fact is a pretty egregious misrepresentation of reality.

It’s time for the AAUP to step up and take a stand for adjuncts by committing resources to the annual salary report. Continuing to omit adjunct pay information is only hurting the organization by projecting the (certainly unintentional) message that the AAUP doesn’t care about adjunct pay.