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Local & State Instructors at CCV Consider a Union

Citing job security and communication as major concerns, a group of adjunct instructors at the Community College of Vermont are organizing a union.

The union drive is in its beginning stages. It will focus on the approximately 600 to 700 adjunct instructors who teach courses at CCV’s 12 locations across the state, according to lead organizers of the effort.

Concerns outlined by union organizers included a pay scale that reflects classroom preparation and stronger input into the non-traditional school’s policies, such as class size and curriculum.

Adjunct instructors handle between one and three classes a semester, but there is no system in place to reimburse teachers for preparation work for cancelled classes or to provide explanations for reduced classloads given to instructors, according to Julie Waters, who has taught at the Springfield campus since 2001.

“If you are lucky, you’ll get as many classes as you want,” Waters said. “But I’ve seen instructors who normally get three classes reduced to one with no explanation.

“You spend all this time preparing for a class, but you don’t really know it won’t be canceled until a week before it begins,” she said. “There is no safety net.”
Unlike the four state colleges and UVM, CCV employs only adjunct instructors.

Organizers said they understand health benefits would be expensive for CCV to offer part-time instructors, but say they would like the opportunity to buy into health insurance plans at a group rate.
The instructors are coordinating the drive with the United Professions of Vermont, an arm of the American Federation of Teachers. It currently represents full- and part-time professors at the University of Vermont and the other Vermont state colleges.

Other concerns the instructors cite include the need for a formal seniority formula, a consistent faculty review process, better access to classroom resources, such as e-mail and voice mail, and a stronger voice in the direction and objectives of the school.

“If you take a look at what part-time faculty want, salary is not typically the first concern,” said Stephen Finner, a senior consultant for higher education with the United Professions of Vermont. “They just want to have better notice of what classes they will be teaching, use of office space to meet with students, telephone use and issues such as those.”

This is the second union drive at CCV since its inception in the early 1970s. In the mid-1980s, some school staff unsuccessfully attempted to form a union.
CCV president Timothy Donovan said he is aware of the drive, but said he did not know what the instructors’ concerns were because they have not been addressed to him.

“I do understand that some number of the folks are interested in forming a union, which is their legal right,” said Donovan, who has been president of the college for three years. “Of course, we will uphold their right to unionize if that is what they choose, just as we will recognize their right not to be represented by a union, if that is what they choose.”

In May, the college sent out a six-page memo titled, “Why NOT a Union?” to all adjunct instructors detailing the process of a union drive and suggesting why a union might not be an ideal fit at the college.

Concerns outlined in the letter include how accepting a union would affect the structure of CCV and the pressure a bargaining unit would have on school tuition.

The letter was signed by five CCV coordinators, the staff that arranges course loads for instructors, and Debby Stewart, the college’s associate academic dean.
“We encourage everyone considering the question of a union to think long and hard about the downside of moving into an adversarial working relationship where the College, by law, would have to deal with the union as your exclusive bargaining representative,” one part of the letter read.

Discussions on unionizing began between a small group of instructors from several different locations, according to Catherine O’Callaghan, an instructor at the Brattleboro campus.

Later meetings were held in Brattleboro, Burlington and Rutland.

The group has not begun asking supporters to sign union cards, and it is not clear how many of the adjunct instructors support the effort.

Approximately 50 instructors have been discussing the issues on a Web site and the organizers’ outreach efforts have just begun, Waters said.

“We don’t have easy access to each other, which makes this a real challenge,” O’Callaghan said. “It’s a real grassroots effort and we’ll be talking to people one on one about what their concerns are.”

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