Thursday, May 11, 2006

Are Part-Time/Adjunct Faculty Unions A Good Idea?

Table_1Here is an interesting article from Inside Higher Ed about how adjuncts and part-time faculty at two community colleges in California have decided to make their own way  to the bargaining table by trying to form their own unions, separate and apart from full-time faculty:

Adjuncts and full-time faculty members at two community colleges in southern California — Grossmont and Cuyamaca Colleges, near San Diego — are currently in battle mode over the [separate unions] question, and their contentions are highlighting an issue that is becoming of increasing concern to professors.

[David] Milroy[, an adjunct French instructor at Grossmont] has been rallying part-timers in the college district, and they could soon be granted the ability to vote to form a separate bargaining unit. He says that more than 600 adjuncts have now signed a petition in favor of doing so, which would be enough support to hold an election under state labor rules. The unit would be represented by the California Teachers Association, which has been supportive of the part-timers’ efforts thus far.

Not all are happy with the adjuncts and part time faculty branching out of their own:

“Objectively, any kinks in unity between adjuncts and full-timers in the same union are a perfect setup for administrators to be able to divide and conquer,” says Zoe Close, a full-time faculty member and chair of the humanities and religious studies departments at Grossmont. “The situation with part-timers amounts to exploitive labor. No full-time faculty member I know likes this situation.”

The tension between the different groups of faculty is aptly summed up in this passage from the article:

Many adjuncts say that their interests can’t be met by mixed unions because part-time issues tend to sit on the back burner, while full-timers make substantial progress. But some full-timers respond that they’re able to form a more effective overall bargaining unit for negotiations with administrators when the two groups work together, and that part-timers often don’t have the time, power or resources to wage negotiations that frequently take years.

To the extent that the part-time faculty at these community colleges are able to organize a separate bargaining unit based on a distinct community of interest, the success of these unions may go a long way in predicting whether separate adjunct/part-time faculty unions have a future in this country.


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In a way, this is the classic question of smaller, multiple units vs. one big a wall-to-wall unit that can be debated at most employers: smaller units can bring representation more specifically tailored to the particular types of workers in a unit, with less chance that a minority group's interest will be overwhelmed; larger units have more power and there's less of a "divide and conqueor" problem.

Because many colleges/universities are public, this reminds me of an odd rule in Ohio public sector law: the bargaining unit can't just be *an* appropriate unit (as under the NLRA), it must be the *most* appropriate unit. Here at Toledo, the faculty in the broader university have seperate units for adjuncts/temporary folks and for permanent/tenure-track folks. I guess that must have been pursuant to a decision that this was the "most appropriate."

Posted by: Joseph Slater | May 12, 2006 7:05:12 AM

A related subject, maybe more interesting as a matter of strategy than unit determination, is whether non-tenure-track law school faculty should organize when the tenure-track faculty is not organized at all, or, if the tenure-track faculty is, in units separate from the tenure-track faculty.

Full-time legal writing faculty, particularly those without long-term, presumptively renewable contracts, generally lack job security, pay, and working conditions comparable to the tenure track faculty's. There are two potential approaches to improving status: either the non-tenure track faculty could convince the school administration (or tenured and tenure-track faculty) that they are the same as that group in all of the important ways or have interests that tenure is designed to protect and should thus be treated the same way; or they could organize, pool their bargaining power, and force the school to bargain with them.

Of course the problem with separating is that to do so will institutionalize the difference in status. The real question, I suppose is whether those differences are already institutionalized. On the other side, though, if a main impediment to equal status is the lack of voting power, and that voting power is what makes the tenured and tenure track faculty unable to organize, then any threat to organize can be defeated by giving non-tenure track faculty the vote, which in turn gives them more of a say in governance, and which allows them access to the tools to improve statuts.

Posted by: Marcia McCormick | May 12, 2006 5:53:14 PM

Without getting into unions or unionization, it's no wonder this is happening, given that tenured faculty are screwing adjuncts at every opportunity, and the AAUP statement/policy on adjuncts is a joke.

After all, who's going to teach all those classes, if you only have to teach four or five courses a year?

Posted by: rightwingprof | May 17, 2006 8:42:25 AM

Whatever the drawbacks, two unions would appear to be preferable to none.

Consider the situation for faculty at state universities in Texas:

Under Texas Government Code § 617.002, “a political subdivision . . . may not enter into a collective bargaining agreement with a labor organization regarding wages, hours, or conditions of employment of public employees” and “a political subdivision . . . may not recognize a labor organization as the bargaining agent for a group of public employees.” Id.

Public employees may not strike or engage in an organized work stoppage. Id.§ 617.003(a).

It does not stop there. State law further requires organizations representing workers to disavow the right to strike. Tex. Gov’t Code § 617.004. Such organizations may assist individuals involved in employment disputes with their pubic employer with internal grievances.

State university labor and employment policies reflect these statutory prohibitions. See e.g., the University of Houston's System Administrative Memorandum SAM 02.A.32 (no recognition of a union as a collective bargaining agent).

Tenured and tenure-track professors at least have representation in the shared governance process through the Faculty Senate. Part-time faculty (adjuncts) are not eligible to be members of the Faculty Senate, however, and thus have no representation and resultant opportunity to shape the policies and budgetary decisions that impact them.

A court has yet to be persuaded that the exclusion of adjuncts from representation and participation constitutes a violation of Equal Protection, and that the denial of collective bargaining and denial of the right to strike (and even advocacy thereof) runs afoul of the First Amendment.

Faculty Rights Coalition

Posted by: Faculty Rights Coalition | May 20, 2006 6:07:14 AM

Are there any organizations nationwide for adjunct faculty to take advantage of? I am mostly interested in health care and retirement benefits.

Posted by: carol cohen | Jul 28, 2008 11:45:34 AM

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