by P.D. Lesko
The Barnard Contingent Faculty union, affiliated with the United Auto Workers, is ready to strike in order to force college officials to raise per course pay for adjunct faculty to as much as $9,000 per course, among . According to BCF-UAW officials, “In early December, we voted overwhelmingly (119 yes – 15 no) to authorize the BCF-UAW Bargaining Committee to call for any action, up to and including a strike, if necessary, to secure a fair contract. Since that time we have met with the administration at the bargaining table several times. During these meetings there has been some movement on both sides. However the administration’s positions on job security, wages, and health benefits fail to improve our working conditions tangibly, and leave our bargaining unit vulnerable to erosion.”
In response, the contingent faculty Bargaining Committee has set a strike deadline of February 21, 2017. If no agreement on a contract is reached by this date the union will call a strike.
In Fall 2015, the NLRB held a mail ballot election in which the Barnard contingent faculty voted 114 Yes – 11 No to certify the union. Later in that semester, union officials held open elections for a Bargaining Committee and an Organizing Committee and in Spring 2016 the contingent faculty union began bargaining it first contract. Union leaders have met with university officials in multiple bargaining sessions, the most recent of which was in January 2017. The union’s efforts include increasing per course pay to as much as $9,000 per course by Fall 2018 for the most senior part-timers and to $5,000 per course for less experienced faculty. In their proposal, by Fall 2018 Barnard administrators propose $6,150 per course pay for the most senior part-timers and $2,050 per course for less experienced faculty.
Pay is not the only sticking point. The Barnard union is asking for the college to pay “90% of premiums for individual coverage and 80% of premiums for Family coverage.” College officials are proposing to cover 0% of premiums for faculty teaching fewer than 9 points (3 courses) per semester and half of what the college pays for medical insurance premiums for its lowest paid full-time faculty members if the adjunct faculty member teaches more than 9 points per semester, but no dental or vision coverage.
Union officials told members that, “The administration’s proposal, if accepted, would at best provide small increases for the lowest paid employees in the unit while memorializing the status quo for most. It would leave adjunct faculty with no benefits while giving the administration the discretion to cut benefits from the handful of faculty who currently receive them.”
The Barnard union’s efforts to push for $9,000 per course pegs the group’s pay demands well above the so-called Mayday $5K campaign launched in 2013. The New Faculty Majority, as well as a variety of higher education activists, unions and associations, including the Modern Language Association, have been pushing for a $5,000 per course minimum for adjunct faculty. In 2013, a group of adjunct faculty activists launched the Mayday Declaration on Contingency in Higher Education. It was part of the national Mayday $5K! campaign that was launched in the spring of 2013.
According to Mayday organizers, “its goal was to ensure educational quality, fairness and equity by improving the wages and working conditions of all contingent faculty in higher education. They are the majority of college teachers and currently number about one million, including part-time adjuncts and full-time lecturers not on tenure-track lines.” The manifesto also calls for longer contracts, health insurance and other benefits for non-tenure-track faculty members.
The campaign goals of the Mayday Declaration were endorsed by a variety of unions and other organizations, including New Faculty Majority: The National Coalition for Adjunct and Contingent Equity.
Adjuncts earn an average of $2,700 per three-credit semester course. Even though a $5,000 per course minimum would almost double the average per course pay for adjunct faculty, AdjunctNation has been critical of the $5K Manifesto for continuing to perpetuate pay gaps.
At Barnard, union officials said on Jan. 23 that they “are working to secure a contract before the Feb. 21 strike deadline. We have several bargaining sessions scheduled before the strike deadline and we have also agreed to bring in a federal mediator to help facilitate bargaining.”
To see the union’s full list of bargaining points and Barnard’s most recent proposed pay and benefit offer, follow this link to a PDF document put together by the BCF-UAW for its members.