Unions and Money: Or Crying in my deeply discounted, on sale, discontinued brand beer

The average part-time faculty member earns $2,500 per course. Alright, before we all start crying into our beer, wine or other appropriate cocktail, let’s make clear that 60 percent of part-time faculty want to work part-time, according to research by Dr. David Leslie of the University of Florida. So, those 40 percent who are trying desperately to put together a living from part-time teaching (we’ll talk about the mental health risks involved in doing this another time), as well as those full-time temporary faculty hanging on in the hopes of landing a tenure-line spot, read on and, well, weep, laugh, or whatever reaction you have to numbers being crunched and conclusions being drawn. Hell, get a drink now and read slowly.

So, I am curious. I’ll admit it. Shamelessly curious. I don’t spy on my neighbors or anything; they’re way too boring, anyway. I am the person who, when appointed to a Board of Directors, always volunteers to serve on the Finance Committee. I always want to know where the money goes. And where it comes from. I think people who can’t read income and expense statements are missing one of life’s greatest pleasures. A budget will tell you more about an organization than a 500 pound pile of press releases. Get three consecutive years of an organization’s budgets and compare them and, my, my, my, you have the makings of a fun evening.

While researching how much state community college systems pay their full-time versus part-time faculty, I hit Florida. The Florida Department of Education has a wealth of information, including detailed income and expense reports. I looked at 2004-2007. In each of those years, the system spent $190 million plus on full-time faculty salaries and only about $10 million on part-time faculty salaries, for 17,000 part-timers. Well, it’s the United Faculty of Florida that represents full-timers in FL, and Florida is one of the states where AFT persuaded legislators to introduce its FACE legislation. This led me to AFT. What would it look like to AFT’s bottom line if there were 6000 more full-time faculty for the union to represent in Florida? The jump in dues revenue would be about $1 million dollars per year, I discovered.

This led me right to the AFT financial reports. I managed to get the complete reports for the last three years. Reading the financial documents made me understand what Edgar Allen Poe meant when he coined the term “Imp of the Perverse.” According to the AFT’s website “AFT is the leading organizer of part-time/adjunct faculty in the United States. AFT represents approximately 60,000 part-time/adjunct faculty, more than any other union.” The union represents about 160,000 higher education faculty, or 12 percent of its 1.3 million members.

First question: If AFT is serious about organizing part-timers, how much money is the group spending on organizing them as a percentage of the group’s total budget. Put another way, is AFT putting its money where its mouth is? To answer that question took a bit of research. According to this article on Inside Higher Ed., AFT officials have organized 22 part-time faculty affiliates in the last three years. So, how much does it cost to organize an affiliate? Jon Curtiss is an AFT organizer, and on a listserv for adjunct faculty, he suggested that $50K per organizer sent to a campus is a modest guess. Let’s say $70K, including benefits.

Let’s say it takes three years to get the job done. That would mean $210K spent on staff to help the part-timers organize their affiliates. Let’s bump up the total cost to $300-$350K per affiliate, to take into account things like printing, postage, and consults by AFT’s legal staff, etc… This means, over the past three years AFT has spent in the range of $6.6-$7 million dollars organizing part-time faculty on 22 campuses, or about $2.2-$2.3 million dollars per year on organizing part-time faculty (1.5 percent of the organization’s total operating budget). Each of those part-timers sends $13.95 to the mother ship in the form of per capita taxes. Thus, the 60,000 part-time faculty represented by AFT generate $10.04 million dollars in gross per capita dues revenue each year.

AFT grossed about $150 million dollars in 2007 on revenue from dues, investments, loans and rents. AFT spent $2.82 million dollars to count and keep track of its money (I can hear all you part-timers who teach accounting out there: “Oh, Hells Bells! I’d do it for $1.82 million.”). Among some of the other interesting line items from the 2007 budget:

  • Each of the 1.3 million members was assessed $13.95 per month for the union’s per capita tax out of their dues to support AFT.
  • Each month, AFT sends chartered state affiliates a .$20 cent per member rebate of per capita taxes.
  • The group spent $8 million dollars to support the offices of the President, Vice President and Treasurer.
  • The Higher Education Department has $1.1 million dollar allotment, less than one percent of the total operating budget.
  • AFT national leaders spent $20 million on general, administrative and operating expenses in 2007 and $2.3 million on collective bargaining.
  • The group spent $9.8 million on political activities, up from $9.2 million last year. At the same time, AFT cut spending on organizing and member services. 


    What does all of this mean? For starters, within the next few years, unless members demand some changes, AFT leaders are going to spend almost 40 percent of all revenue on themselves, their salaries, offices, departments, travel, meetings, etc… Another huge line item is money for donations to politicians and to pay lobbyists. FACE is costing a bundle. In New York, for example, every Assemblyman who sponsored and/or co-sponsored the AFT’s 2007 FACE bill received hefty campaign donations in 2006 from NYSUT. Meanwhile, NYSUT’s 8000 part-time members, who send $1.3 million dollars each year to AFT through per capita taxes, will get nothing from the FACE bill introduced in New York. All of the language in support of part-time faculty was stripped out.

    At one time, Czar Nicholas II owned ten percent of the earth, while millions of his people toiled in abject poverty with no hope of better lives. Revolution came along. Education union officials have been quoted widely as saying that their organizations are committed to revolution. They are committed to bettering the working conditions of part-time faculty through collective bargaining. Privately, though, officials and organizers grumble about the difficulties of organizing part-timers and the expense involved in doing so. If part-time faculty won’t, as a rule, work for free (and why should we?), it’s time for union leaders to stop blaming us for our lack of initiative, and start inspiring us. Perhaps, the time has come for them to pay us to organize our colleagues. Such a suggestion might seem heretical, but a modest stipend of $30K a year to organize one’s colleagues would inspire many part-time faculty to give their time and skills willingly. For $3 million dollars a year (2 percent of its total budget) AFT could have organizing drives aimed at part-time faculty on 100 campuses.

    In the meantime, there are still unionized part-time faculty earning $2,500 per course with no benefits. They’re the ones who should be crying in their beer. If they could afford a beer, that is.

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