Students and parents waiting in line to see Jon Stewart’s version of politics on Friday night first got a taste of GW’s own politics.
Three adjunct professors, in addition to representatives of the Service Employees International Local 500 and members of the Progressive Student Union, handed out pro-union literature, and soliciting petition signatures Friday night as parents and students lined up outside the Smith Center before the 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Stewart performances. The petition, which union supporters said will be presented to University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg at the end of the semester, garnered 300 signatures requesting the University to acknowledge a part-time faculty union on GW’s campus.
Kip Lornell, an adjunct music professor and lead union organizer, said the main purpose of the would-be union’s efforts at Colonials Weekend was to educate students and their parents about the University’s treatment of adjunct professors, and to allow members of the GW community to understand where tuition money is actually going.
“The University does a good job of not informing students and not really wanting them to be informed either,” Lornell said. “If GW students realized that they provide 85 percent of the budget money for the University, they would be asking where the money was going.”
Union representatives said they handed out about 3,000 pieces of literature to people waiting in line for the shows. Flyers were distributed with a Sept. 2 Hatchet article detailing the University’s ongoing legal situation with the National Labor Relations Board, and an Oct. 13 Hatchet letter to the editor from a former adjunct professor who recently left his teaching post at GW due to a pay raise disagreement with Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs Donald Lehman.
Union supporters also circulated a flyer directed specifically at parents which read, “GWU adjunct faculty: more than half of all teachers; less than a third of full-time faculty compensation.” The flyer encouraged people to call Lehman and Trachtenberg to “let them know that GW students’ adjunct professors deserve a better deal!”
In May, the NLRB determined that part-time faculty members approved a union by 10 votes in an October 2004 election. University officials contend that the board’s certification was flawed and have refused to engage in collective bargaining with would-be members of the SEIU Local 500. The University is set to face the National Labor Relations Board in a federal hearing this month after the NLRB filed an unfair labor practice charge against GW over the summer.
Union supporters said they thought their Friday night efforts to educate people who may not know about the struggle to unionize were successful.
But some parents said they weren’t happy about the confrontation. Mike, a parent of a sophomore who preferred his last name not be given, said he supported the union but not their method of addressing the University.
“I don’t think that it’s unreasonable for them to have 50 percent benefits if they put in 50 percent of a work week,” he said. “I don’t think they should be preying on parents when they know there will be a concentration of parents in a concentrated space. I think they could have chosen a more appropriate time and place.”
Sophomore David Solomon said he refused to sign the petition because of his poor experiences with adjunct professors. Solomon said that in the two Spanish classes he has taken at GW, both of which were taught by part-time professors, the professor has either been fired or quit mid-semester. Solomon said he didn’t blame the University for its treatment of professors, but instead blamed the professors themselves.
“Maybe I would support them if they showed more in the classroom,” he said.
Sophomore Alicia Green signed the petition in support of GW’s adjunct faculty.
“Teachers should be working under direct contract,” she said. “They should have stipulations and clear-cut benefits.”
Senior Timothy Kaldas, a member of the Progressive Student Union, said the next step for student supporters of the union effort is dorm-storming, going door-to-door asking students to sign the petition.
He said, “We hope to put pressure on the University to treat all employees of the University in a fair and respectful way.”