PT Faculty & The Employee Free Choice Act

In 1975, there were about 275,000 part-time faculty employed in the United States. Over the past 30 years, the number of faculty off the tenure-track has mushroomed to over 800,000 individuals, or about 70 percent of the total college faculty employed in the United States. Recent studies suggest that these faculty teach, on average, half of the courses offered at colleges and universities. It is a common misconception that the number of faculty on the tenure-track has stagnated. Quite the opposite is true. Over the past decade, the number of tenure-faculty has increased by over 50,000 individuals nationwide. Of course the number of faculty off the tenure-track has increased more quickly. 

As the number of faculty off the tenure-track grew, leaders of the the three major education labor unions did little more than fiddle while Rome burned. If it weren’t so tragic, the systemic ineptitude would be comical. In 1992, the AFT represented some 45,000 part-time faculty, most of whom were in the union’s New York, California, Oregon and Washington affiliates. Today, some 17 years later, the AFT represents around 60,000 part-time faculty, most of whom teach in New York, California, Oregon, Washington and Michigan. In 17 years, while higher education saw the number of part-time faculty climb to over 500,000 individuals, the AFT organized 1,100 part-timers per year. AAUP has actually lost part-time faculty members. Today, the group reports some 3,500 part-time faculty members. A decade ago, AAUP represented almost 6,000 part-timers. AAUP recently formed a strategic alliance with AFT in order to jointly organize faculty groups on campuses. 

On the surface, the Employee Free Choice Act could work to make campus organizing much easier. If a majority of employees signed union cards, the NLRB would be required to certify the union. There would be no need for employees to vote in a secret ballot. With respect to part-time college faculty, in states were the unionization of part-time employees was legal, such a change could lead to sweeping changes in the numbers of part-time faculty represented by collective bargaining units. To me, this is a double-edged sword simply due to the abysmal track records of the current education unions in their efforts to secure equitable pay and working conditions for part-time faculty union members over the course of the past 35 years.

As a faculty member organized under the auspices of the Employee Free Choice Act, I could find myself represented by a national union whose leaders are hell bent for leather to reduce the numbers of part-time nation-wide. Eradication of exploited workers doesn’t count, in my book, as bettering their working conditions. Worse still, I could find myself in an agency shop. I actually taught at a school whose faculty union had negotiated agency shop dues payments. It was a waste of my money; the union leaders negotiated absolutely nothing for the part-time faculty during the years I taught at the school. Part-time faculty in unified locals all over the country routinely see their union leaders negotiate contracts that, for instance, include “equal percentage raises.” Contracts like this put the locals’ part-time faculty squarely into the category of second-class citizens. The Employee Free Choice Act could help unscrupulous union leaders simply accrete part-time faculty into existing locals, where the part-timers would pay dues for sub-standard or non-existent representation.

As a part of my January 2009 prognostications, I wrote that “Obama will not be able to get the Employee Free Choice Act passed.” Now that several influential senators have come out against the latest incarnation of the legislation proposed in March 2009, it looks as though part-time faculty may dodge the bullet that is the application of the Employee Free Choice Act within higher education.

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