Adjunct faculty look to unionize

Adjunct professors filed a petition Monday to bring a union to campus, following almost two years of failed attempts at gaining representation. Professors are calling for benefits, job security and higher salaries.

This week, the National Labor Relations Board will hold a hearing with the University, faculty members and Service Employees International Union 500 to allow professors to testify about their grievances and give GW a chance to acknowledge all parties.

While the University may voluntarily recognize the union at any point, officials said GW will request that adjunct faculty members hold an election to vote on whether the union can come to campus.

“It’s our right to have a voice,” said Jim Levy, an adjunct professor in the department of music, who has worked on the unionization effort for about a year and a half.

Anne McLeer, a union organizer and adjunct professor in the women’s studies department, said she hopes the election will be held by the end of the semester while faculty members are still in the D.C. area. The election requires a majority of adjunct faculty members’ support to allow the SEIU to represent them.

“At this stage the election is a democratic way of showing support for this,” she said.

The SEIU represents faculty at the California State University system.

If successful, an adjunct professor union could come onto campus as soon as this fall. GW currently has 1,115 part-time faculty members and 807 full-time faculty members, said Joachim Knop, associate director of the Office of Institutional Research.

Matt Nehmer, acting assistant director of Media Relations, said in a statement that the University will hold a “fair and free election.”

“(T)he University encourages the free discussion by members of the University community (about) the associated complex issues,” he said.

Most part-time professors do not receive health care, retirement or child care benefits, as full-time faculty members do.

Kip Lornell, a union organizer and adjunct in the department of music, said about 60 of the more than 1,100 part-time faculty members are considered “regular part-time faculty,” receiving about one-third of a full-time faculty member’s benefits. All other part-time faculty members receive no benefits, he said.

Donald Lehman, executive vice president for Academic Affairs, said many part-time faculty members have other jobs and do not want benefits from the University.

Currently, adjunct professors earn $2,500 to $4,200 per course per semester, according to an April 2002 Faculty Senate report. Officials determine adjuncts’ salary ranges based on their titles and seniority – assistant professorial lecturer, associate professorial lecturer, lecturer or professorial lecturer. Lehman said each group of adjuncts has a minimum salary but may exceed the maximum salary allotted.

He also said the University has not increased the salary ranges since December 1999.

“(The) ranges were felt to be competitive, especially with the minima that we had instituted,” he said.

However, some adjuncts said the pay ranges should account for changing economic times.

“We are being paid wages that reflect last century’s situation,” said Lornell, who added that the union has support from adjuncts throughout the University, especially in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

Adjunct faculty members also said they would like job security. Currently, adjunct faculty members work on a semester-to-semester basis.

“On a very practical level, students will ask me in the spring what courses I’m teaching in the fall,” McLeer said. “And I have to say I’m not 100 percent sure.”

Lehman said while regular part-time faculty members work under yearly contracts, adjuncts are rehired each semester depending on University need. He said departments judge whether they will rehire adjunct faculty members based on how many full-time faculty members departments are required to teach classes.

He added that some adjunct faculty members “bring special expertise” from institutions outside of the University.

“Sometimes people approach us saying they would love to teach at the University,” Lehman said.

Last year, adjunct faculty members and graduate teaching assistants attempted to unionize under United Auto Workers. However, Lornell said organizers had a “mutual parting of ways” in September because the UAW wanted to immediately include GTAs, to aggressively recruit members and did not want to send enough resources.

“(The disaffiliation) had to do with their philosophy of how to run the campaign,” he said, adding that faculty members looked at about four other organizations before choosing SEIU in November.

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