Adjunct professors will begin voting Monday on a unionization proposal that could have a major impact on how the University negotiates contracts with faculty.
From Oct. 4 to 19, all part-time faculty who have taught at least one class in two of the past four semesters will receive a ballot by mail asking them whether they want to be represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 500.
The union has been campaigning to establish collective bargaining for GW adjuncts for more than three years. If adjuncts vote to organize, GW would join New York University as the only private colleges with part-time faculty unions.
The National Labor Relations Board Votes will tabulate the votes, which are anonymously cast. Though union organizers had originally wanted voting to take place on campus through ballot boxes placed in academic buildings, the University pushed for a mail-in system to make voting more convenient for those who are eligible but do not make regular visits to campus.
The movement’s supporters are promoting unionization as a way to achieve higher salaries and increased benefits. The University has consistently opposed the idea, saying that a union would limit the school’s flexibility in distributing workloads and scheduling classes.
Since the election was first scheduled last year, the University has tried to encourage as large a turnout as possible through several letters circulated to adjuncts and establishing a Web site on the issue (www.unionization.gwu.edu).
Administrators have said it is vital to capture a range of views from what they call a diverse community of part-time faculty.
Union organizers, for their part, have been attempting to spread their message by contacting adjuncts directly – one by one – over the phone or in person. While they acknowledge that the level of support for a union is hard to gauge, promoters are confident the vote will turn out in their favor.
“It’s hard because you have to talk to so many different people,” said Anne McLeer, an adjunct professor of women’s studies and lead union organizer. “But we’ve vastly encountered much more positive response than negative response, and I’m not just saying that.”
Both unionists and administrators maintain that they have no way of predicting how many people will vote or what the outcome will be. Sentiment among adjuncts has been mixed, and several declined to comment publicly on how they might vote.
Kathleen Ross-Kidder, an adjunct professor of psychology, said that while she understands the grievances many part-time faculty have about low wages and benefits, she believes the SEIU is the wrong platform from which to push for changes.
“This is more of a union for non-professionals,” Ross-Kidder said of the union, which represents nurses and racetrack employees, among other types of workers. “Teaching is a profession that should be valued above all else. If you value teaching, why would you affiliate yourself with a union that’s not for professionals?”
Supporters said they will continue to spread their message as voting takes place over the next two weeks and encouraged all adjuncts to come out in support of a union.
“Now is the chance to make the kind of changes in working conditions that (adjuncts have) been complaining about for so long,” said McLeer. “Now’s the time.”