by Brendan Moore
DePaul could soon be at the forefront of the debate over adjunct unionization as DePaul President Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M. informed faculty last week of attempts by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to add DePaul faculty to their ranks.
In an email with the subject line “Union Solicitation at DePaul,” Holtschneider wrote Jan. 14 that a community organizer affiliated with the SEIU was approaching adjunct faculty members to solicit support for a union.
While Holtschneider said that DePaul adheres to Catholic social teaching on worker’s rights and respects the right for faculty to decide who represents them, he made clear the university would prefer if contingent faculty did not unionize.
“Our preference is to maintain a direct working relationship with adjunct faculty — without interference from a third party that has no connection or commitment to DePaul and its students and that may not understand our culture and our values,” Holtschneider said. “We believe this will better assist our tenured faculty and department chairs to work closely with our adjunct faculty and empower us to build on the improvements that we have made and continue to make progress together as a community. We hope that adjunct faculty who are subject to a union organizing campaign feel the same way.”
The struggles of some contingent faculty both at DePaul and around the country has been well-documented. At DePaul, adjuncts are paid $3,000 to $6,000 per course, depending on their department.
“I try to tell my classes, ‘Did you know that there are people here who have permanent, stable positions and people who don’t,’” an anonymous adjunct faculty member said at the time. “It’s a two-tiered system.”
The effort is part of the SEIU’s Faculty Forward initiative, which seeks to unionize contingent faculty nationwide. Currently, only three universities in the Chicago area are unionized: Roosevelt University and Columbia College’s adjuncts and The University of Chicago’s non-tenured faculty.
The SEIU may get on the board soon, however, as Loyola’s faculty are currently deciding on whether to make the union their sole bargaining representative. The vote ends Jan. 26.
For DePaul adjuncts considering signing a membership card, Holtschneider ended his email with a link to a webpage of information the university compiled on unions called “Adjunct Info Hub”. While the university states in its official policy on unions that it “is not anti-union,” much of the links presented paint a bleak picture of unions, specifically the SEIU.
One slide bluntly asks “with whom would you rather work?” and presents only two options: DePaul, with several benefits listed, or the SEIU, with several negative attributes. Another questions the paying of union dues; the last slide is titled “Don’t let the union silence your voice”.
While the SEIU is perhaps more associated with healthcare workers and advocacy for a $15 minimum wage, part of their platform is fighting for a $15,000 minimum per course for adjuncts.
“Overall, the nature of adjunct faculty is very close to that of a fast food worker in terms of compensation for time spent,” said DePaul adjunct Martin Bernstein last May. “Regardless of your level of education, there are adjunct faculty at this school and others with master’s and Ph.D. degrees that hardly make enough to live on.”
In addition to lackluster pay, adjuncts are not afforded the same benefits as tenured professors. At DePaul, they have the option to pay into a retirement fund and have some subsidized health coverage, but can only qualify for health benefits after they have been teaching for one year and teach six full-credit courses during that time. And very often they have no control over the number of hours they teach.
“It certainly isn’t ideal, and having a part time job here and a part time job at another college does not equal a full-time job,” Bernstein said.
According to the the adjunct faculty fact sheet, the university currently employs around 1,900 adjunct faculty and 925 full-time professors.
“All faculty members are within their rights to communicate their position on unionization—for or against—and we encourage them to exercise that right,” Holtschneider said. “We urge adjunct faculty to arrive at a fully informed position on whether being represented by a union is in their best interests.”