Adjunct faculty to vote on union rights

Part-time lecturers of the School of Arts and Sciences will this week cast their ballots in an election determining whether adjunct faculty will form a union under Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) Adjunct Action campaign, which aims to improve benefits, job security and pay for part-time professors at universities. 

Many part-time faculty members lack the benefits that full-time professors receive, according to Andrew Klatt, romance languages lecturer and member of the part-time faculty organizing committee. Benefits include “just cause” protection from arbitrary job termination, security in class reappointment and a transparent evaluation process, he said.

Klatt and his supporting colleagues hope to gain these securities by unionizing. 

Voting will remain open until Sept. 25 for the 270 adjunct School of Arts and Sciences faculty members at Tufts. The National Labor Relations Board will announce the decision next Thursday. 

Klatt expressed confidence that the election will result in a union. 

“I think the union-organizing campaign has been so tremendously successful precisely because people are hurt,” Klatt said. “People were insulted. People feel powerless unless we organize.”

In the wake of the 2008 economic crisis, many staff and faculty members saw their pay frozen by the administration. Although normal pay arrangements were eventually reinstated, part-time faculty had to wait the longest, Klatt said.

“As far as I know, no other salaries were frozen for five years,” he said.

In response to the possibility of a union on campus, university administrators such as Dean of Academic Affairs for Arts and Sciences James Glaser and Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Joanne Berger-Sweeney sent a series of emails to part-time faculty in hopes of deterring the movement, Klatt said. 

Many faculty members responded negatively to the emails, according to Klatt

“It’s not at all credible to try to convince us that we would be better off if we didn’t have the right to sit down at a table as legally protected peoples – that it’s better for us if the university continues to make all the decisions,” he said.

Glaser told the Daily in an email that the university would accept the results of the election but fears a union would lead to administrative difficulties and a more confrontational relationship with part-time staff. 

“The administration supports the right of our part-time faculty to decide for themselves whether or not they want to unionize and bargain collectively,” he said. “We encourage all of our part-time faculty to exercise their right to vote since every one of them will be bound by the election results.”

Glaser said that the emails were meant to clarify legal concepts, given that this is a major decision for faculty. 

“We felt obligated to provide as much information as we could about the legal implications of unionization and collective bargaining and what it might involve,” he said.

According to Glaser, all faculty members receive equal health and retirement benefits, and Tufts benefits are generous compared to peer institutions.

“These benefits and compensation policies were established without union representation,” he said. “It is important to note that we have very little turnover in our part-time ranks … because our benefits and compensation packages are strong and competitive.”

Whether or not the election results in a union, Glaser said that administrative changes are unlikely to affect students’ experience in the classroom. 

“The huge majority of our part-time faculty are highly skilled teachers who respect our students and the institution,” he said. “Whatever their relationship to the administration, they are likely to continue to serve our students well.”