Part-time faculty union members vote to ratify five-year contract

Part-time lecturers, Elizabeth Leavell, Carol Wilkinson and Andy Klatt, greet protestors at 200 Boston Ave. on Sept. 29. (Eddie Samuels / The Tufts Daily)

The tentative agreement for a new contract reached earlier this month between part-time lecturers and the School of Arts and Sciences was ratified by a huge majority on Oct. 25, according to Andy Klatt, lecturer in the Department of Romance Languages and member of the part-time faculty’s bargaining committee.

The ratification was almost unanimous, Patricia DiSilvio, senior lecturer in the Department of Romance Languages and member of the bargaining committee, said. Ninety-nine percent of those who voted approved the ratification, one member abstained; there were no votes against ratification, according to DiSilvio. She said that of the total members eligible to vote, more than two-thirds voted.

The ratification came after months of negotiations and the threat of a walk-out. This contract is the second contract between the administration and Tufts’ part-time faculty members, who unionized with Service Employees International Union in 2013. According to DiSilvio, the official signing of the new contract has not yet taken place.

Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences James Glaser told the Daily in an email that he was pleased the agreement was ratified and believes it represents a fair contract that exceeds the benefits received by part-time lecturers at comparable universities.

“We’re pleased that the part-time lecturers have ratified our agreement, which — as was the case with the previous contract — means they will continue to enjoy pay, benefits and terms of employment that lead the relevant market. We appreciate the contributions our part-time lecturers make to the university, and look forward to continuing our respectful and constructive relationship with them going forward,” he said.

There were several important changes in the new contract, DiSilvio said; however, one of the most important was a salary increase based on seniority.

“[The salary increases] will encourage [part-time] faculty to want to stay at Tufts and to continue their teaching career at the university because there is a meaningful employment here and recognition of our value,” DiSilvio said.

DiSilvio explained that there was a 2.5 percent increase in pay across the board for each “step,” which refers to the number of years a lecturer has been at Tufts. Step one is one through four years of teaching, step two is five through eight years, step three is nine through 12 years, and step four, a new step created in the contract that was proposed by the university, is 13 years and beyond.

In addition to the 2.5 percent increase, part-time lecturers receive a pay increase each year through the life of contract that varies based on what step they’re in, DiSilvio said.  Faculty in step one will get a $50 supplement, those in step two will get a 1.1 percent raise off the 2.5 percent increase, those in step three will get a 1.2 percent raise off the 2.5 percent increase and those in step four will get a 1.3 percent raise off the 2.5 percent increase, DiSilvio explained.

Klatt said significant bargaining took place around the length of work that constituted each step. The university originally proposed that the fourth step begin after 20 years of service, Klatt said. However, because of the length most faculty would not reach that step and they bargained to lower the requirements to try to maximize the amount of faculty that it would apply to, he said.

“We were looking at it from the point of view of, what percentage of part-time faculty would be included if the pay step was added in after 20 years, after 16 years, and after 12 years?” Klatt said.  “We got it down to [after completing] 12 years, where it’s going to reach the benefit of about half of part-time faculty. So that’s finally what we settled on,” Klatt said.

According to Klatt, a second important change addressed part-time lecturers’ professional development fund.  The fund originally provided $500 yearly per lecturer, which can be spent to benefit their teaching. However, $500 does not cover many important potential costs, such as an out-of-state conference or new computers. Ultimately, while the amount allocated per lecturer did not change, they will now be given $1,000 at a time to be spent over the course of two years, Klatt said.  Having a larger concentrated sum may allow for some of these larger purchases, Klatt said.

DiSilvio added that the eligibility for the professional development fund was lowered to benefit newer employees who may especially benefit from these resources.

“At first [the university] said [faculty] had to be in their fifth year to apply for the professional development fund, and we argued that it’s new faculty that could use this extra development to purchase classroom materials and attend workshops or conferences. So they are now eligible in their third year,” DiSilvio said.

According to Elizabeth Leavell, a lecturer in the English department and member of the bargaining committee, another important gain was earlier notification of non-reappointment for multiyear faculty so they would have more time to find another job.

“In the past, there had been no set time for notification. We would sometimes start teaching before we got formal reappointment letters. So someone wouldn’t have a chance to look for other work if they weren’t rehired here. And that was just the way things had been done for a long time and continued to be the way things were done. So these changes in non-reappointment are really significant for us,” Leavell said.

Other benefits include a streamlining of the grievance procedure, increased fees for voluntary assignments such as teaching independent studies and reading theses, greater rights to review and respond to evaluations, written notification of non-reappointment for faculty on a one-year contract, and clarification about when part-time faculty should be notified of open full-time lecturer positions, Klatt said.

Leavell said the process of fixing inequities was not over.

“I hope that we conveyed that this is a process, not a one-time deal, that is, that the university and our representatives will be working together to try to redress inequities that are still present,” Leavell said.

She added that the university showed disappointing reluctance to adjust its policies.  The threat of a walk-out was extremely influential in negotiations, according to Leavell, and pushed the administration to work with lecturers.

“I’m disappointed that we didn’t get closer without the threat of a walk-out. I don’t see any evidence at all that we would have gotten anything like what we ended up getting without that threat, and I don’t feel that that is consistent with the idea of Tufts being a leader [of part-time faculty affairs],” Leavell said.

Not all bargaining goals were met, Klatt said. The committee unsuccessfully tried to increase the benefits of starting lecturers.

Additionally, lecturers had hoped to sign the contract for only three years, DiSilvio said, but they compromised with five.  A shorter contract would give them the opportunity to renegotiate and to have a better sense of what the market would look like when their contract expires, she said.

However, the length of the contract may be an advantage in some ways, according to Klatt.

“We think that next time around, Tufts is not going to be able to be so proud because other universities are going to have to negotiate better pay between now and the expiration of this contract. By the time this comes around, people and part-time faculty at Tufts will be in a good position to say, Tufts should be a leader in it and it no longer is,” Klatt said.

DiSilvio said that she was pleased with the amount of progress part-time faculty made with the new contract.

“I think that this has been a very positive experience, there were ups and downs, it took a little bit longer, but the administration listened to us in the end,” DiSilvio said. “I think they originally felt that they had given us a lot in the first contract and all they needed to do was tweak the second contract, but we were able to make significant progress and reach a strong agreement.”