Baby Steps: Labor Unions Helping To Improve Adjunct's Working Conditions a Little at a Time

Last June, the adjuncts and contingent faculty at Western Michigan University voted almost without dissent (207- 29) to ratify a contract for a new part-time instructor faculty union, the Professional Instructors Organization. In April, the members proposed their first labor agreement of job and wage improvements which was ratified unanimously by the Western Michigan University Board of Trustees.
There will be some immediate changes for WMU adjuncts, and some which will not begin until the fall semester. There is a small increase in the amount of pay they will receive per credit hour for those who are paid at the minimum rate — it will go from the present amount of $700 to $750. Instructors who now earn from $800 to $1,000 per credit hour may earn an annual raise based on a newly established scale. Another small concession will be the payment of $20 per credit hour taught to the adjuncts as a wellness payment. Because part-timers at WMU, like those at most other colleges and universities are not provided health insurance, this, too, is a small step forward.
WMU adjuncts will now find it easier to continue their own educations as well. The contract provides for part-timers to receive a full tuition discount during their semester of employment for up to four credit hours, generally one class. WMU tenure track instructors have enjoyed this benefit for years. In fact, it was during the two years I worked there as a full-time academic term appointee (2004-2006) that they changed the tuition rate for faculty from 75 per cent off to 100 per cent off. This situation will benefit the part-timers and the university both. The adjuncts will further their education, skills, and knowledge, and the university will reap the benefits.
Progress is being made in other parts of the country, too. Some 150 adjunct faculty at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights, New York voted 2 to 1 this March to join the St. Francis Adjunct Faculty Union, an affilliate of the New York State United Teachers, AFT and the National Education Association (NEA). As with other schools, the part-time faculty members are concerned about “low wages, infrequent paychecks, lack of access to health insurance and other benefits their full-time colleagues enjoy, including office and storage space.”
And, there is more good news! Part-time, adjunct faculty members in the Maine Community College System have voted (264-96) to join the Maine State Employees Association, the union that represents thousands of other state workers. About 800 part-time faculty members will join other community college system employees who are already represented by MSEA, including supervisory and support staff workers. The union says part-time, adjunct faculty members teach “60 per cent of the classes in the Maine Community College System, making them the largest work force in the system.”
Historically, conditions, wages, and benefits for employees in other industries have improved as the union movement grew. These adjuncts in Kalamazoo, Brooklyn Heights, and the State of Maine are the beginning of a movement that has the potential to enrich the lives of countless college instructors, one step at a time.

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News For the Adjunct Faculty Nation
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