Dispute could delay prof. union advances

A discrepancy in the number of adjunct professors teaching at GW may prevent faculty from forming a union unless more professors sign a petition supporting the move.

Union organizers, who are looking to bring Service Employees International Union 500 to campus, must show evidence of support from at least 30 percent of part-time faculty members before an official vote is held. A simple majority in favor of unionization would bring the body to campus.

Adjuncts have been working for more than two years to form a union to help secure higher salaries and greater health and retirement benefits. Although professors filed with the National Labor Relations Board earlier this month showing the necessary support needed to hold an election, the petition relied on a figure of 1,115 adjuncts this semester, which the University has since disputed.

GW currently has 1,115 adjunct faculty members, according to GW’s Office of Institutional Research. However, University officials are saying GW has 1,600 part-time professors.

The NLRB decides Monday whether to accept the adjuncts’ or University’s number of part-time professors.

On Thursday, after a day of private negotiations arbitrated by the NLRB, GW and adjuncts agreed to hold a mail ballot election later this semester, if 30 percent of faculty members support unionization. Ballots would be mailed to all adjunct professors on April 17 and be due back by May 3.

“The primary bone of contention right now is the number of adjuncts,” said Kip Lornell, an adjunct music professor and union organizer.

Media Specialist Eric Solomon declined to say how GW calculated its figure, but said GW was determining whether the would-be union “has provided a showing of support for the union that is sufficient, under the federal labor law, for the NLRB to order an election.”

The dispute could become a setback in the would-be union’s efforts, organizers said. Adjuncts involved in the process would not say how many professors had signed the petition, but indicated that the number falls short of what would be needed under the University’s statistics.

“We would probably need to take a little more time to get a little more support,” said Anne McLeer, an adjunct professor of women’s studies and a union backer.

She said that while interest among adjuncts is hard to gauge, she is confident that support for unionization is high.

“I think we can get over this hump,” she said. “Either way this turns out, I believe we’ll get the support we need and there will be a union.”

Some union organizers said GW is fudging its numbers to block the unionization movement.

“It’s very evident that they’re padding on names so that the overall threshold is insufficient to meet the minimal standards,” said David Rodich, executive director of SEIU 500. “The University knows that if a union is formed there’s going to be trouble, so they’re doing everything they can to stop it.”

John Singleton, an attorney representing the union, said GW is not required by law to make public who is on its list, making it difficult to disprove the University’s findings.

“The real dilemma is that under the Board’s rules and regulations, the director can only demand payroll records,” Singleton said. “If you just made up names and said John Smith and Pocahontas are on the list and we can’t show that that’s the case, then we’ve got a real problem.”

Some union supporters said GW is using a loose definition of part-time faculty to inflate numbers.

“It could be anyone,” McLeer said. “It’s possible they’re trying to include graduate students teaching classes or full-time faculty or anyone receiving a paycheck. We just don’t know.”

University officials declined to comment on what accounted for the difference in figures, saying only that they would accept whatever number the labor board, which has the final say, decides is correct.

“The University has provided the NLRB with requested information to assist the board in making its determination,” Solomon said. “At this time, GW believes that working through the NLRB is the appropriate forum for the provision of information.”

If an election is held this spring, one expert said the odds are in the adjuncts’ favor.

“In recent years, the history has shown that we basically win almost all the elections we go into,” said Jamie Horwitz, spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s largest firm representing adjunct professors. “Some of them are completely lopsided. In a lot of them we win by a 90 percent to 10 percent ratio.”

Solomon said the University would accept the faculty members’ decision to unionize if they vote in favor of it.

“If an election occurs, the University encourages the free discussion by members of the University community of the associated complex issues,” Solomon said.

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