NYSUT, an AFT/NEA affiliate, organized the 1,000 part-time faculty at Pace University in 2004. I wrote about Pace’s adjunct faculty union and its trials and tribulations here. The bottom line is that it took almost five years between when the union was certified and when the negotiating team hammered out its first contract. Unionists have dubbed Pace as the “Employees Free Choice Act” poster child. Form a union, ladies and gentlemen, and what happened at Pace could happen to you. Well, kinda. Yes, the administrators at Pace bargained with less good faith than anyone ever imagined humanly possible. They filed lawsuits challenging everything except the union president’s shoe size. When the union won certification, the administrators then dragged the contract negotiations on and on and on and on and on….Wash. Posture. Rinse. Repeat.
Ok. There are about 1,000 adjuncts at Pace. Out of that 1,000, 473 cast votes in the union election. Of the 473 who voted, 308 voted for the union and 165 voted against it. The union won the right to represent the adjuncts by getting 30 percent of the members to vote for union representation. John Pawlowski, president of the union, sent a message to the membership in October of 2008 that read, in part, “Four and a half years ago an overwhelming majority of Pace adjunct faculty voted in favor of unionization….” I’m sorry, but 30 percent of the membership is not an overwhelming majority by any means. Pawlowski went on to write, “The UAFP Executive Council and the Bargaining Team believe this contract will make important inroads toward addressing many of the concerns that led us to form a union in the first place.”
The result after four years of waiting was a contract that offers adjuncts between $2,500-$2,800 per course. Up from $2,400 per course prior to the union’s certification. That’s a raise just about big enough to cover the union dues. How nice. For NYSUT. The union will recoup the money it spent organizing Pace’s adjuncts within 3 years. The adjuncts will get raises of 2 percent per year.
The system in our country whereby education unions organize part-time college faculty in order to help them win better pay and benefits is completely kaput. At the moment, it pays more to work for an education union, than to affiliate with one as a part-time faculty member.
At York University, in Canada, lecturer Lyyke de la Cour earns $14,000 per course and may teach up to 5.5 course per year. As always, I’ll let the adjuncts teaching Intro. to Math figure out her yearly salary. So what gives, you ask? Why is Lyyke de la Cour earning 6 times more than John Pawlowski’s pals at Pace? Well, at the moment, Lyyke de la Cour is doing something the adjuncts at Pace never did. She’s on strike. De la Cour has been on strike since November 6th, along with her 900 part-time faculty colleagues.
John Pawlowski’s comment concerning the “overwhelming majority” of support from adjunct faculty at Pace is an important clue as to why Lyyke de la cour is earning $14,000 per course, and Pawlowski’s earning $2,800. He doesn’t have an overwhelming majority of support. He never had it. The union was formed without it, and in four years neither organizers from NYSUT, not faculty leaders from Pace were able to bring together the part-timers at Pace under a banner of union solidarity strong enough to organize a strike (illegal or legal) or a slowdown. NYSUT and AFT let the Pace affiliate twist in the wind, and twist the affiliate did, a pathetic weakling unable, in the end, to negotiate terms of a contract significantly better than the terms of employment under which the faculty had been working before NYSUT rode into town.
CUPE, the education labor union in Canada, is fighting hard on behalf of its members at York University. The current strike is about power more than it is about money. You see, the contracts of every single faculty group represented by CUPE in Ontario expire in 2010. CUPE wants a two-year contract for its members at York, and administrators there want an agreement that expires in 2011. CUPE’s plan is to negotiate, en masse, for all of its faculty members in Ontario when their labor agreements expire in 2010. CUPE, you see, wants to be able to shut down York University in 2010, if necessary. Imagine the American Federation of Teachers negotiating contracts for all of the part-time faculty in New York State affiliates at the same time. No contract. No classes. Higher education in the state would be paralyzed. The power of the part-time faculty to negotiate would be increased exponentially. The AFT and NYSUT have other fish to fry, however. Political fish.
NYSUT contributes $1 million dollars each month to the AFT national office’s Committee on Political Education (COPE) campaign. The AFT national office, in turn, donates between $15 million and $18 million dollars each year to political candidates in order to further the organization’s legislative agenda. State affiliates, such as NYSUT, manage their own COPE programs and political donations, as well. I’ve written about NYSUT’s political clout here.
The difference, then, between CUPE, NYSUT and AFT should be obvious at this point. CUPE is looking after the best interests of all of its faculty members with equal diligence and vigor. Striking part-time faculty within CUPE are supported financially by not only the national union, but by CUPE affiliates throughout the province of Ontario and throughout Canada. For instance, when part-timers at Wilfred Laurier University part-timers went on strike in March 2008, their buds from PEI and Newfoundland came 700 miles to march with them, and with a $1 million dollar check for the strike defense fund. I wrote about it here.
Maybe the answer is that John Pawlowski and his union brothers and sisters deserve $2,800 per course until they get a collective spine? That’s one answer. A better one, perhaps, is that the education unions be exempted from the Employees Free Choice Act. Sound harsh?
Well, here’s a newsflash Lois Lane: In 35 years, our nation’s higher education unions have, by hook and crook, by doling out so-called “equal percentage raises,” and giving state money for part-time faculty equity pay to full-time faculty (in California and Washington State), by doggedly increasing pay and benefits to their full-time faculty members at the expense of their part-time faculty members, have instituted a two-tier system of representation. The AFT, NEA and AAUP have gorged themselves on, literally, billions of dollars in dues revenue in the past decade.
Now, answer honestly: Are part-time faculty within higher education, as a group, better off today than a decade ago? Hell, in Washington State, it will be at least another 30 years before part-time faculty there represented by the AFT-Washington and NEA-Washington, earn per course pay equal to that of their full-time faculty union brothers and sisters. Their total salaries, of course, will never come close to parity. In Oregon, the AFT affiliate at Portland State has won pay raises for members, but they pale in comparison to the raises awarded the full-time faculty. In California, part-time faculty have sued to get out of their AFT affiliated unions because the full-time faculty-controlled local leaders ignored the interests of the part-time members.
So, ask me about the Employees Free Choice Act for the higher education unions when John Pawlowski earns $14,000 per course, and the 8,000 part-timers in PSC-CUNY have pro-rata pay and benefits. In the meantime, here’s to hoping that CUPE and Lyyke de la Cour prevail at York University.