Lesley University Adjunct Faculty Vote to Form Union, Join Colleagues at Tufts in Adjunct Action/SEIU
Lesley University adjunct faculty have resoundingly voted to form a union in Adjunct Action, a project of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The victory marks the second time in five months that adjunct faculty at Boston-area universities have formed a union to improve their profession and the quality of education.
Adjuncts teaching across Lesley’s four campuses stood together and overwhelmingly supported a union on campus by voting 359 to 67 to join SEIU. The votes for the all-mail ballot election were counted at the Boston office of the National Labor Relations Board on Monday.
The win reflects an 84 percent vote in favor of forming a union – a landslide victory for adjuncts, and the entire Lesley community. Matthew White graduated from and now teaches graphic design at Lesley. He said, “Teaching is a passion for me. Seeing students transform their ways of thinking and doing is what it’s all about. With part-time faculty making up the majority of faculty, our working conditions are directly related to student success and that’s why I’m excited about forming our union today. Our union will help Lesley University provide students a richer experience and better education. “
This shift to a contingent faculty workforce in higher education has been dramatic. In the early 1970s, almost 80 percent of faculty were tenured or on the tenure track. Today, only 33 percent of faculty remain in tenured or tenure-track jobs. As a result, being a university professor, once the quintessential middle class job, has become a low wage one where instructors face low pay and no benefits or job security. Many do not even have access to basic facilities like office space, making it increasingly difficult for adjuncts to do their best for their students.
Lesley adjunct instructor Shira Karman said, “We, the adjunct faculty at Lesley, voted to form our union to be seen and respected as a vital part of the Lesley community. Today marks a new day for us and the Lesley community. I’m thankful for the heartening support from all corners of campus; full-time faculty, students, alumni and our local elected officials who stood with us as we voted to form our union.”
Over the past few months, adjunct and part-time faculty from coast to coast have engaged in conversations about forming their own union to raise standards for private, non-profit universities. Tufts University part-time faculty voted to join SEIU in September 2013 and are currently bargaining their first contract. In December, adjunct faculty at Whittier College in Los Angeles voted to form a union with Adjunct Action. Last Thursday, contingent faculty at Seattle University in Washington State filed an election petition with the NLRB.
The efforts to form unions come on the heels of victories by part-time professors in the Washington, D.C. area. There, contingent faculty significantly improved their pay, job security, benefits and working conditions after forming a union with SEIU.
Lesley adjuncts are joining a national movement to address the crisis in higher education where jobs are increasingly low wage and part time even while revenues and profits are increasing. Lesley adjunct Norah Dooley said, “Lesley is exceptional in the way it cares for its students as human beings. As an Alumna of Lesley, I love my alma mater yet I wish Lesley was equally as exceptional in its treatment of its adjunct faculty. Teaching one course at Lesley does not even cover the costs of health insurance for me and my family during the 13 week semester. While the crisis in higher education is complex, it is not intractable. Our overwhelming “yes” vote to form our union with SEIU/Adjunct Action is a great start on a solution. Adjuncts are raising standards not just for adjuncts and not just for Lesley. I truly believe we are raising the bar for all in higher education. Alumni like me want to see Lesley University take a leadership role in this movement.”
Adjunct Action is a project of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the nation’s largest and fastest growing union and home to over 18,000 unionized college and university teaching faculty who have won improvements in pay, job security, evaluation processes, and access to retirement benefits. For more information, visit www.adjunctaction.org.