Adjunct professors withdrew a second petition seeking an election to form a union of part-time faculty on Friday, effectively squelching the possibility of forming a union by the end of the academic year.
Union organizers decided to withdraw after failing for a second time to convince the National Labor Relations Board that the movement had sufficient backing among part-time faculty. Federal law requires that the unionists show the support of at least 30 percent of their total bargaining unit to hold an election.
“At this point, we thought that this is just going to keep on happening, so we decided to withdraw the petition and continue collecting cards,” said Anne McLeer, an adjunct professor of women’s studies and leader of the union movement.
The push for unionization has been stalled for weeks over a dispute between organizers and the administration about how many adjuncts teach at GW. Adjuncts said the number stands at 1,115, while the University maintains the count is closer to 1,600. The NLRB has thus far stood by the University’s calculations.
The University has about 1,115 adjuncts, according to the Office of Institutional Research.
After the NLRB rejected an initial attempt to resolve the issue more than a month ago, the Service Employees International Union Local 500, which is looking to come to campus, filed a second petition on March 31 that more specifically defined the bargaining unit they were representing. However, the NLRB again concluded that the University’s numbers were correct.
Adjuncts have been pursuing unionization for more than two years as a means to secure higher salaries and additional employee benefits. Supporters said they were disappointed with the NLRB’s latest findings.
“It’s a setback because we truly believe that if we held an election today we would win,” McLeer said. “I think the University knows that, and that’s why they’re trying so hard to make sure there is no election at all.”
Union organizers said the move eliminates hopes of holding an election before the end of the spring semester, which officially ends May 15. Adjuncts will now prepare to petition for a vote next year.
“We’re almost definitely looking at the fall,” McLeer said. “Trying to get an election within the next couple of weeks, given the whole numbers issue, would be pretty much impossible.”
The University has opposed adjunct unionization. Last week, GW’s Media Relations department released a statement on its Web site criticizing the movement, saying a union for part-time faculty “has the potential to undermine our academic mission and sharply curtail academic freedom.”
University officials said collective bargaining could have an adverse impact on students by giving adjuncts more control over when and for how long they would hold classes.
“The union will likely demand collective bargaining over such issues as course schedules, workloads, appointment and reappointment procedures and hours of work,” said Matthew Nehmer, assistant director of Media Relations. “These issues, if addressed in a contract applicable to all part-time faculty, would eliminate the flexibility of departments to schedule classes at times they might know are convenient for the students wishing to take them and even to establish new courses and remove old ones.”
In light of Friday’s developments, the University issued a press release saying the withdrawn petition is evidence that a minority of adjuncts support unionization and stating that the administration “looks forward to working directly with part-time faculty to address (their concerns).”
Organizers said they still have the necessary support and will continue to work towards unionization. Although they said their numbers are correct, organizers said they will no longer formally dispute the University’s list of part-time faculty and instead try to attain enough signatures to satisfy the school’s figures.
“We’re not accepting their numbers,” McLeer said. “What we’re accepting is that the Labor Board is not going to probe (the University’s) list any further, so in order to go forward we’re going to have to get more cards signed.”
Although she said the would-be union faces an uphill battle, Mcleer said she remains committed to the movement and is confident the movement would have better luck next fall.
“My sense is that people feel they’re being treated badly and want change,” she said. “And they’re still going to want change in September.”