Adjunct Action: SEIU’s national movement for unionization of part-time faculty

In a mail ballot vote that ran from Sept. 11 through Sept. 25, part-time faculty members at Tufts voted to join Service Employees International Union (SEIU). This move makes them the only group of unionized faculty at Tufts. The union will now be the intermediary in most negotiations between the Tufts administration and the university’s part-time lecturers.

Eligible voters included all part-time lecturers in the School of Arts and Sciences who are teaching this semester or who had taught the previous two semesters. Out of the 283 eligible, 128 voted in favor of unionization, 57 were opposed and 98 did not return their ballots.

SEIU is the largest union in the United States and represents more than 15,000 adjunct faculty across the country. SEIU’s national campaign, Adjunct Action, is currently organizing in Boston as well as Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Seattle. Adjunct Action has been particularly successful in the D.C. area, with part-time faculty at Georgetown University forming a union with SEIU in May, joining their counterparts at American University, George Washington University and Maryland’s Montgomery College.

In Boston, while unionization efforts were successful at Tufts, adjuncts at Bentley College narrowly voted against joining the union, according to the National Labor Relations Board, and efforts are still underway at Northeastern University.

The cost of living in Boston is particularly high – 32 percent more than the national average and – adjuncts in the Boston area are especially under strain, according to a report from Adjunct Action released earlier this month.

In a letter sent to part-time faculty before the vote at Tufts, however, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Joanne Berger-Sweeney and Dean of Academic Affairs for Arts and Sciences James Glaser claimed that benefits afforded to Tufts’ part-time faculty are reasonable.

“Tufts is far more generous than institutions that have been organized by the SEIU,” the deans wrote.

The letter details that, compared to the national average of about $3,000, Tufts part-time faculty receive a minimum of $5,115 per course. For instance, in 38 of 41 disciplines at Tufts, the minimum course rate is at least $6,000, and part-time faculty who teach at least three courses per year are eligible to participate in the university’s Health and Wellness Plans, which include health, dental, vision, health and dependent care flexible spending accounts, life insurance, accidental death and dismemberment insurance and long term disability insurance.

In preparation for negotiations, both those for and those against the union have considered a number of issues, among them costs to the university and students, changes to course offerings, negotiating benefits, and how to maintain democratic processes through what may turn into a series of confrontational interactions.


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