Adjunct professors hopeful for city-wide agreement

Media Credit: Samuel Klein | Senior Photo Editor

Ed Grefe, an adjunct professor who has taught in the Graduate School of Political Management for 17 years, hopes to organize D.C.'s adjunct professors to ensure wage equity.

GW’s adjunct professors and their D.C. colleagues could earn more if they succeed in creating a city-wide contract, which local faculty leaders have proposed for the past two years.

Adjunct professors’ plans to negotiate a city-wide contract have dragged on because leaders must first wait for adjunct faculty at every university to form unions. But they feel a sense of renewed energy as the University of the District of Columbia could soon unionize, leaving only two schools without unions.

Kip Lornell, GW’s union president, said the contract would give adjuncts collective bargaining power to set the same base salary rate. Adjunct professors at GW say this move would put their salaries on an even playing field with their cross-town colleagues, many of whom earn more.

Adjunct faculty at Catholic and Trinity universities still have not planned votes to start unions – the last roadblocks before city-wide negotiation can begin.

Creating a D.C. union would be unprecedented, Lornell said, as it would group all of the city’s adjuncts together so universities would have a one-stop-shop when looking for someone to teach a particular class. It would also give adjunct faculty more time to learn whether they will teach a course before each semester.

“What we cooked up here a long time ago has gone nationwide. You can blame it on GW,” Lornell said. “But nobody really knows what [a city-wide contract] would look like because nobody has ever done it.”

The University relies on adjunct faculty more than its peer institutions. New York University was the only one of GW’s competitor schools to also hire more adjunct professors than full-time faculty last year, according to federal data.

Adjuncts made up two thirds of GW’s faculty last year. Part-time faculty taught half of undergraduate course sections and 43.5 percent of graduate course sections. Less than half of the University’s adjunct faculty are represented by the union.

Adjunct faculty are typically paid by the course. Since first unionizing eight years ago, minimum pay for adjuncts has increased nearly $1,000 per course. Adjunct faculty with Ph.D.’s earn a minimum of $4,030 per course, while professors with non-terminal degrees earn a minimum of $3,500.

Lornell said adjuncts at Georgetown University earn the most in the city, while GW and American University adjuncts earn about equal-sized paychecks.

Ed Grefe, an adjunct professor who is also a member of the union’s University-wide labor management committee, said as more adjunct professors unionized, they realized each school in the city had a different idea for what the market price should be.

“Lots of people are being paid $1,000 per course, so let’s organize to try to get some equity across the board,” Grefe said. “That’s really where we’re headed. How do we get equity?”

Still, Grefe, who has taught in the Graduate School of Political Management for 17 years, said one set rate for adjunct faculty is far off because the last two city universities have made little progress toward unionizing.

He said one holdup for Catholic and Trinity universities is a Supreme Court ruling that religious institutions do not have to recognize unions. Adjuncts at Duquesne University, who have voted to unionize despite the university’s religious affiliation, are challenging the ruling.

GW’s adjuncts unionized in 2006, becoming the third group of adjunct faculty to unionize in the country. At the time, administrators were concerned that a union would present new challenges for scheduling classes and determining workloads.

Full-time faculty aren’t unionized because they have a role in faculty governance. Founders of the Faculty Association, a rival group for full-time faculty that formed last spring because they believed the Faculty Senate was not representing them well, have said they are not open to adjuncts, who are already represented by the union.

To move forward with a city-wide contract, Grefe said adjuncts would most likely negotiate with the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area.

But Sally Kram, the consortium’s director of public and governmental affairs, said the consortium had not heard from adjuncts about starting negotiations on this topic. She said he did not know what the terms of the several unions would be.

“Labor agreements are signed between employers and their unions. It’s not something that’s agreed to in a cross-campus approach,” Kram said.

– Colleen Murphy contributed reporting.

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