Tim Kaldas: Stop the games with adjunct union

In October 2004 the adjunct faculty voted to form a union affiliated with SEIU 500 and engage in collective bargaining with the University. The vote was certified by the National Labor Relations Board, the federal body meant to oversee and arbitrate disputes surrounding unions and unionization. GW continues to refuse to negotiate with the legally recognized adjunct union, after a year and a half. Instead, GW has worked to appeal the decisions of the NLRB repeatedly.

The University maintains that the objective of these appeals is to reach the best decision that is most representative of the views of the faculty, the same faculty that voted to unionize. This assertion appears wholly disingenuous when one reviews the University’s case.

The essential position of the University is that not all eligible faculty members were given an opportunity to vote. However, the reason for this is that the University failed to provide the names of some faculty members before the vote. The NLRB has ruled – and precedent supports this – that the only group entitled to challenge the results in this situation is the union because it was the University who failed to supply the names. The NLRB maintains that if they were to accept the University’s argument it would be an invitation to further abuse.

Think about it: If all an employer had to do to block a union was fail to provide a comprehensive employee list, then employers would repeatedly offer incomplete lists so that they could challenge the results until they achieved the results they desired. The NLRB ruled in its most recent decision that the University’s case was “without merit.”

It is apparent that the University’s continued pursuit of appeals has nothing to do with having a strong case but is simply an attempt on the part of the University to drown the union in litigation in hopes that it can kill the union in a legal battle of attrition. This abuse of the justice system must stop and the University must sit down and negotiate with the adjunct union in good faith.

The recognition of the adjunct union is not only in the interests of those faculty members involved but also of the students and the University more broadly. Currently, 60 percent of the faculty members are adjuncts. The treatment of the adjuncts in general is unacceptable and a number of adjuncts have left GW complaining of poor pay or treatment. Generally, adjunct faculty make somewhere around $3,000 per semester course they teach. Almost no adjuncts receive benefits to supplement this pay. I spoke with one adjunct who complained that she had to personally pay for the photocopies of the midterm she was administering.

Also, if a course taught by an adjunct does not have the minimum number of students enrolled at the conclusion of the first two weeks of classes, the course is sometimes cancelled and the professor is left without compensation. This is in spite of having already taught for two weeks and having done all the work of preparing a syllabus and researching course readings. This also leaves adjuncts with extremely tenuous job security.

The treatment of the adjunct faculty is quite troubling. Paying someone with a Ph.D approximately $3,000 per course, which would amount to around $18,000 to $20,000 for teaching the equivalent of a normal full-time annual course load, is unacceptable. Further, it reflects poorly on how much the University actually values education. It is also a disservice to the academic community. The poor treatment of and overdependence on adjunct faculty is a national problem that serves to discourage many from pursuing an academic career. Rather than following this trend, GW should be a leader amongst academic institutions and treat its entire faculty with the respect it deserves.

President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg often justifies the salaries of administrators by arguing that only by paying such salaries can we attract the most qualified personnel. This argument is perfectly rational but should also apply to the faculty. By offering more competitive salaries and incentives, the University will attract the best educators available improving the quality of instruction at GW.

It is in all of our interests that the University abide by the NLRB’s decision and sit down and negotiate with the adjunct faculty as soon as is practicably possible. If you’d like to learn more and perhaps get more involved, come to the teach-in on April 8 in the Marvin Center in room 402 at 2:30 p.m. You can ask adjuncts, students and union organizers about the issue and the campaign.

-The writer, a senior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist. He is a member of the Coalition for Fair Labor.

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