by Imani Tate
A union’s failed attempt to organize University of La Verne adjunct professors has prompted increased dialogue and let university officials resume projects that had to be halted when the union began its organizing efforts on the main campus last fall.
On Aug. 1, the national office of the National Labor Relations Board formally notified ULV Chief Human Resources Officer Jody Bomba that it had dismissed for lack of merit six complaints filed by the Service Employees International Union claiming university interference with union organizing and harassment and punishment of proponents.
The national NLRB’s decision upheld the July 30, 2013, dismissal by its regional California office.
The no-merit ruling came after ULV submitted substantial written evidence and testimony countering union allegations and proving all allegations false.
The NLRB also confirmed that SEIU asked the board to halt the union vote on Feb. 7, one week before the end of the two-week voting period. The NLRB, by SEIU request, confiscated the ballots on Feb. 21. Although ULV President Devorah Lieberman appealed and wanted to have the votes counted, the confiscation requested by the union prevented the count.
The NLRB additionally reported the union had withdrawn its petition to organize a chapter on the La Verne campus.
The university is one of several in the nation selected by the union to organize adjunct, or part-time, professors, but the attempt at ULV involved only adjuncts on the main campus. It did not cover adjuncts at the university’s San Luis Obispo, Bakersfield, Victorville, Irvine, Oxnard, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Burbank, Point Mugu and Ontario campuses or the College of Law.
There are roughly 500 adjuncts and 250 full-time professors teaching at 11 ULV campuses. About 390 of the 500 part-timers are on the main campus and were the only ones included in the eligible union voters. Ballots were distributed to the adjuncts on Jan. 31, 2014 for a 2-week mail-in vote with ballots to be returned by Feb. 14.
“This has been a very difficult year of conversations and activities about the adjunct faculty,” Lieberman said. “However, there have been some positive outcomes. This was an opportunity for our campus to step back and ask what are we doing well and what can we do better so adjunct faculty members are respected and compensated well, according to similar institutions of higher learning.”
Jeannette Vagnozzi has been an adjunct professor for 15 years in the College of Business and Public Management. She and adjuncts Mansoor Khan, Frank Fialho, Teresa Martinelli-Lee and Elric Boardman were among union opponents. They sent communications to other adjuncts asking if they were unhappy and to identify the reasons for that unhappiness.
“We only got feedback from a small group who were unhappy. I think that small group’s concerns should be addressed and not have an union imposed on everyone,” said Vagnozzi. “For me, the union wasn’t necessary because I feel supported by the university and my peers in the College of Business and Public Management. I didn’t think a union could make a difference in how I felt about the university, about my position here or how to be a better teacher for my students.”
Vagnozzi objected to being approached by an union organizer 10 minutes before her class began. Some professors were also approached at their homes, a fact many found objectionable, but Bomba noted this is legal under laws governing labor union organizing.
Vagnozzi was also among adjuncts who had a problem with the fact that a simple majority of those voting was all that is needed to establish an union. That means if only 100 of the estimated 390 main-campus adjuncts voted, 51 favorable votes would make the decision for 390 people. Bomba confirmed the simple majority rule of votes cast, not a majority of eligible voters, is legal.
On Nov. 13, 2013, Music Department adjunct professor Michael Ryan and adjuncts Michael Kaulback, Joseph Farago-Spencer and Fatima Suarez met with Lieberman and told her they were in favor of the union for a variety of reasons.
Ryan later modified his position.
“I’m now feeling that the university is going to work with the adjuncts, so I’m not disappointed that nothing happened with the union,” Ryan said. “The good thing about this whole process and the union approaching us is that it brought out the importance of conversations on issues no one previously talked about. People might have thought about it, but there was no real dialogue.
Ryan added that since that dialogue has begun, the effort has been a “win-win” for the professors and university leaders.
Requests for comments from those still supporting the union were not answered.
University leaders said they didn’t want an union because they felt it was unnecessary and they were already working toward resolution of concerns.
“We knew we had things lacking and were working to address them. It takes time for some things to materialize, but the effort had begun,” Bomba said. “We don’t believe adjuncts should have to pay dues to a union to negotiate things the university is willing to address for free.”
In September 2012, Lieberman created a compensation task force to research and assure salaries for all employees were comparable to similar educational institutions in the region. The task force had nothing to do with the union and had began dialogues about working conditions, benefits and improved communication before the union organizing effort began on Oct. 28, 2013.
Union organizing also began after Bomba established Adjuncts With Excellence (AWE). She began gathering materials in the spring of 2013 which focused on quality of university life, compensation, operations, inclusion and respect for adjuncts. The first AWE meeting was held Sept. 11, 2013.
Lieberman and Bomba said halted dialogues caused by the union organizing will resume.