Second Class Citizen No More: Adjunct Files Unfair Labor Practice Complaint Against His Own Union

by P.D. Lesko

Last week, adjunct faculty activist Keith Hoeller, co-founder of the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association and the Editor of Equality for Contingent Faculty: Overcoming the Two-Tier System (Vanderbilk Press, 2014), filed an unfair labor complaint with the Washington State Public Employee Relations Commission against his college employer, as well as  United Faculty Coalition, the NEA faculty union affiliate which has represented Hoeller over the many years he has taught part-time at Green River Community College. In his complaints, Hoeller cites “anti-union animus” and “interference” in the union. Green River Community College is located in Auburn, Washington, just outside of Seattle

Washington State adjunct activist Keith Hoeller has filed an unfair labor complaint against his college employer and his union affiliate, as well.

Washington State adjunct activist Keith Hoeller has filed an unfair labor complaint against his college employer and his union affiliate, as well.

Keith Hoeller explained: “The anti-union animus complaint documents the retaliation I have faced as a result of engaging in union-protected activities such as organizing adjuncts, publicizing working conditions, filing grievances, and seeking information from my union. The interference claim may well be the first of its kind in the nation.  I claim that the college and the union have interfered with union rights by putting tenure-track faculty, who function as supervisors, into the same union.”

Long-time adjunct activist Keith Holler is not the first adjunct to face hostility from tenured faculty and union leaders in Washington state.
“Doug Collins of the Seattle Colleges and Jack Longmate of Olympic College were removed from their elected union positions after testifying against bills they believed were harmful to adjuncts.  And Teresa Knudsen lost her job at Spokane Community College soon after she published an op-ed (“Colleges Exploiting Part-Time Professors”) in the Spokane daily newspaper,” said Hoeller.

The two complaints document how adjuncts are treated at colleges where unions are run by and for the tenured faculty, and what happens when adjuncts protest their mistreatment and try to change it.

In 2013, Kathryn Re and Keith Hoeller filed multiple grievances and asked the state affiliate led by former AFT VP of Higher Education Sandra Schroeder to intervene after the former United Faculty Coalition president Phil Jack was discovered to have embezzled thousands of dollars of union funds. Jack was never charged with a crime, and police reports released to in response to Freedom of Information Act requests showed that United Faculty Coalition officials did not cooperate with police investigators.

In January of 2015, Greenriver Community College President Eileen Ely, in response to falling enrollment and a looming $5.7 million budget deficit, recommended closing three programs at the college. Mark Millbauer, president of the faculty union, runs the auto-body-repair program; Glen Martin, the college’s carpentry instructor, is one of the union’s contract negotiators. Both would lose their jobs if the programs were to close. Both Millbauer and Martin served on the Board of the United Faculty Coalition when the embezzlement by Phil Jack was discovered.

On January 28, 2013 Kathryn Re, a member of the Green River Community College United Faculty Coalition sent a 10-page letter to the President of the National Education Association, Dennis Van Roekel. In her letter, Re—a mathematician— lays out a meticulously detailed and documented indictment of her union’s Executive Committee’s failure to adhere to the group’s bylaws, and asks Van Roekel to assume “immediate trusteeship” of her Washington State local. Re writes, “We are writing this formal complaint to request your urgent assistance because the union rights of NEA members are being systematically violated by the United Faculty Coalition (UF) of Green River Community College (GRCC) and the Washington Education Association (WEA), both NEA affiliates.  We believe that immediate harm will befall NEA members should you fail to act quickly to correct the systematic corruption that is now taking place at Green River Community College.”

Re’s letter included accusations of financial corruption and cover up, improper elections, conflicts of interest, denial of representation, failure to represent, discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Many of the explosive allegations, unbeknownst to Re, were corroborated by hundreds of emails sent between and among the GRCC union’s Executive Committee members between March and July 2012. The emails were turned over to AdjunctNation in response to a July 2012 Freedom of Information Act request.

The embezzlement scandal, its cover-up and alleged retaliation against Re and Hoeller for demanding accountability, is just one of many precursors to last week’s unfair labor complaint, according to Keith Hoeller.

“While I have long been active on the state and national level, I had long avoided involvement with local college and union matters because of the grave risk to adjuncts without any job security,” explained Hoeller. “But in November, 2011 our union president insulted adjunct faculty in a speech to the Green River Board of Trustees.  The Green River Adjunct Faculty Association was promptly formed and faced immediate retaliation when we criticized the union.  Three of our more vocal members lost their jobs after only one quarter of teaching, though the union contract makes clear they are entitled to two quarters of review.  The two Division Chairs who let them go were members of the unions executive board, one was the Chair of the union’s grievance committee. As the perceived ringleader, I have been under constant retaliation for over three years.  The two complaints document these reprisals.”

Keith Hoeller has filed nearly twenty grievances, perhaps a record for any college professor.  Nearly all have been denied by the college and gone unsupported by the union, which has refused to take any of them to arbitration.  For standing up for adjuncts at Green River, the union has treated me like a pariah despite the many things I have done to benefit adjuncts and [show] how adjuncts are actually treated in our nation’s two-track system.”

AdjunctNation contacted United Faculty Coalition officials at Greenriver Community College for a comment concerning the unfair labor practices complaint filed against the union by one of its own members.

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3 Comments for “Second Class Citizen No More: Adjunct Files Unfair Labor Practice Complaint Against His Own Union”

  1. Hey, Keith:

    Well, well, I am one of those one-quarter wonders silenced by the minority, chided by the full-timers and plenty of part-timers. This academia – I’ve been organizing campuses as an adjunct since 1983, ending with my 2012 one-quarter madness at Clark College – is a viper pit, and you don’t have to read Chris Hedges or listen to Black Agenda Report or skim through Counterpunch to realize that inherently, higher education is not “higher” and that the system is predicated on a smoke and mirrors con game.

    So, what have we got? ADMIN Class and Highly Paid Support Staff and bastardized education run amok. Realize that speaking out and activism in academia is the kiss of death, when one considers the reactionary, neoliberal and punishment-recombination-retribution society we have created, largely through the work of corporatists, careerists and educators. That patchwork of jobs, those one-quarter appointments, well, don’t they catch up to us, wouldn’t you know.

    So the hire-fire queen at GRCC has zero idea of the length of that decision to sack me, nor does she embody a universalist view that all people are of value.

    My crime was firing up students, teaching outside the box, and fighting the lobotomized values of the teacher and administrative class at GRCC. Alas, though, this education scam is infected throughout the land, and as more adjuncts buy into on-line crap, buy into what it is they are teaching having value, well, then the disaster of Capitalism and Consumer-Retail Culture that is the USA has come to roost.

    I’ve even worked organizing adjuncts in WA state for SEIU, and yet, another top-heavy and unprincipled outfit, exacting $50 or $100 a month dues from personal care workers and adjuncts. This is a self-defeating game, higher education, under the constraints of limited thinking and devaluing radicals and true liberators of words.

    Nary a person thanked me for all my extra time at GRCC, and the boot out the door was a violent one, as the structural violence of this haphazard society belies.

    For now, though, seeing this continuing criminal enterprise that is higher education implode, well, not much satisfaction from that since we are already full speed ahead in this dumb-downed society.

    No holds barred, and everyone is subject to my polemics, if you dare read the book in 2016 –

    Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber,

    Paul Haeder, Portland

  2. Good for you and all adjuncts, Keith. I am proud of you for speaking out in an attempt to garner support from NEA since systematically following union protocol has been a total waste of your time and effort. The very colleges that depend on adjunct teaching refused to grant arbitration for any of your grievances. This indicates there is an abyssmal breakdown in the college system and rights of adjunct employees. Thanks you for never giving up and being a strong voice for adjunct professors.
    I have first hand knowledge of the inequitable two-tier system of full-time vs. adjunct professors. I hope you get some action with this. Best of luck, Ellen Hahn, former Adjunct Professor in WA

  3. Very nice job of summarize some of the treatment that Keith Hoeller has received by both his administration and his union at Green River College, formerly Green River Community College. Thank you for mentioning me as another example of a Washington state adjunct who dared to oppose a union dominated by tenured faculty and who was then retaliated against, as Keith Hoeller has been.

    In my case, I served terms as vice president and secretary of the NEA-affiliated local at Olympic College. I was respected and commended for my service–one of the presidents whom I served once said that I was our union’s most dedicated union member. But the positive sentiment changed as soon as I testified against a bill that was designed to provide incremental pay step raises for tenured faculty but not non-tenured faculty. There were requests that I resign my officer position, calls for a vote of no confidence, which culminated in being censured by a show-of-hands vote which, as I explained later in a complaint, gave a far stronger feeling of a witch hunt than due process. Neither the leadership of my local, the leadership of the Washington NEA affiliate, nor the NEA president himself at the time cared that this action was quite in violation of the procedure established in the NEA by-laws. Last year, I heard that the NEA lost over 300,000 members, but for me, knowing what I know about the NEA’s character, I don’t lament that loss very much.

    If there is anyone a union should be fighting to protect, it is courageous individuals like Keith Hoeller, who been recognized as a national leader for non-tenured faculty for two decades. Instead, his union is his chief adversary.

    In exchange for serving as the exclusive collective bargaining agent, a union must execute its duty of fair representation. A union cannot pick and choose who it wishes to support. A real union certainly cannot engage in bullying members or any of those it represents.

    One thing a union offers is a social atmosphere, where one can associate with fellow faculty. But a real union is more than a social club. If the NEA were to transform itself into a real union that takes its own bylaws seriously, including the responsibilities it has in oversight of its locals, who provide its wherewithal to operate, there would be stronger reasons for for non-tenured educators to consider joining it.

    Jack Longmate
    Adjunct English Instructor
    Olympic College, Bremerton, WA

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