By P.D. Lesko
Jack Longmate is a renegade in the best sense of the word. He is saying out loud a long-hidden truth: in most locals, education unions have consistently neglected their legal duty to represent part-time and full-time faculty members equally. I have written before that this is a class-action suit waiting to happen. Our Part-Time Thoughts writer posted “UUP Yours—Some Part-Timers Unhappy With Tentative Union Contract.” I have spoken to numerous adjunct activists about this issue, including Keith Hoeller, who has been advocating on behalf of part-time faculty in Washington State and nationally for the past decade, or longer. Keith has written about this issue in op-eds published by the mainstream media in the Pacific Northwest.
Jack Longmate, as an individual, not representing his union, in February 2o11 testified in front of the House Education Committee of the Washington State House of Representatives against a piece of legislation favored by the leadership of his union. He was quickly confronted and his own supervisor, a member of the same union executive board as Longmate, called for Jack (the only part-time on his affiliate’s executive board), to be tossed off the board. In short, Jack Longmate was retaliated against by the members of his union for exercising his right to free speech, and for expressing his perosnal opinion that the legislation they wanted was not in the best interests of part-time faculty (of which he is one and they are not).
Jack Longmate, however, has upped the ante in this high stakes game of Washington, DC hold ’em. The National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors are running their organizations as if this is still 1970 and three-quarters of college faculty have tenure. The numbers are flipped now: 70 percent of faculty work off the tenure-track in positions that are either full-time or part-time temporary. Still, the AFT, NEA and AAUP national offices, state and local affiliates are controlled, for the most part, by the people who make up the minority of college faculty—the full-timers. Yes, there are affiliates populated and controlled by part-timers, but this is the exception, not the rule. As a rule, affiliates such as NYSUT (AFT-New York) negotiate contracts on behalf of all members, both full- and part-time. These contracts often limit how many courses/hours part-time faculty can work, and do not provide equal pay for equal work.
In short, these affiliates do not represent their full-time and part-time members equally. Unions leaders in Washington, DC and elsewhere can sing, dance, push pay equity schemes, FACE legislation, negotiate same percentage raises for both faculty groups, but as John Adams once said, “Facts are stubborn things.”
It was reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education today that Jack Longmate sent a 15-page “sharply-worded” letter “to the president of the National Education Association, Dennis Van Roekel, asking him to intervene and to confront the broad conflicts of interest in unions that represent both groups of professors in the same collective-bargaining unit.”
Jack Longmate wants Mr. Van Roekel to allow a third party to investigate Longmate’s claims against his own local at Olympic College. Longmate alleges in his letter that there are, “serious and unmitigated conflicts of interest between the part-timers, who lack any job security, and the full-timers, who have tenure and serve as their de-facto supervisors.”
Of course there are conflicts of interest when full-time and part-time faculty are represented in the same locals. Here’s what Longmate wrote to Van Roekel:
Full-time tenured faculty members are allowed to teach courseloads that surpass what is allowed in the union’s contract and that cut into the classes available for part-time professors. He also says, among other things, that adjuncts are not routinely invited to the table during discussions about issues that affect them and that his union has violated various policies outlined by the national association.
The full-time faculty are protected. Their jobs are protected. Their paychecks are protected. Their working conditions are protected. They are treated like first class union members. Meanwhile, the part-time faculty represented by the local are sacrificed to protect the full-timers’ jobs, pay and working conditions.
Jack Longmate sent his letter on April 5th, and still has not heard from the NEA. That’s because right about now, someone in the NEA’s Higher Education Division is on the phone with Washington Education Association president Mary Lindquist telling her to fix this anyway she can.
This is a PR nightmare, particularly with the current attacks on labor unions by far right groups. Can you imagine the headline? “NEA affiliate stifles free speech.” Unions are getting enough bad press at the moment without shooting themselves in the feet.
There are 10,000 part-timers in Washington State, and the WEA/NEA collect dues from every one of them. Be that as it may, those dues have not guaranteed those 10,000 part-time faculty equal representation.
There was really two crucial issues here:
1. The lack of equal representation
2. The retaliation by members of an affiliate of the National Education Association against Jack Longmate for speaking his mind to his elected officials
I can’t decide which one is worse.
I can tell you that the NEA refused to comment when The Chronicle of Higher Education came knocking. They also refused to comment when InsideHigherEd.com asked about Longmate’s letter. This is the worst possible moment for NEA officials to close ranks and pretend that the public, higher education and their own members don’t deserve a thorough explanation of how the NEA intends to respond to Jack Longmate’s formal complaint.
I’m planning to send an email to Mary Lindquist in support of Jack Longmate’s request to have an independent investigation of his allegations. You can do so, as well, by clicking here. Jack Longmate has launched the first shot in what could be a fight on behalf of adjunct faculty that could change the shape of higher education union representation for hundreds of thousands of people.
Jack Longmate deserves not only the gratitude of his colleagues at Olympic College, and the other 10,000 part-timers in Washington State. He deserves the support of part-time faculty nationwide.