Guest column: A message to adjunct colleagues about unionization
The American University adjunct faculty have an important issue in front of them. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has called for an election to determine whether the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500 for purposes of collective bargaining will represent adjunct faculty.
The decision to have a union represent adjunct faculty on all employment related matters is an important one that has implications for the entire faculty individually and collectively.
It is critical that all adjunct faculty exercise their right to vote, whether you support or oppose unionization. A simple majority of those who vote will determine the election and all adjunct faculty will be affected by the outcome, whether or not you vote.
Over the past two years the Faculty Senate has been rewriting the faculty manual, grappling with issues of shared governance and, at the same time, addressing issues that are important to all faculty.
The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article about the Senate’s work last June.
The Chronicle was impressed with our efforts and said, “What sets American University apart from many of the nations’ other colleges is how aggressively it is adapting its governance structure and policies to today’s academic workforce.”
In our review, the Faculty Senate found the section of the faculty manual that addressed term faculty — full-time faculty working under either one year or multiyear contracts — was especially in need of revision.
The Chronicle reported that, “As part of a broader overhaul of its governance, it [the Senate] has found ways to offer its term faculty members new career tracks, research opportunities and more say in university affairs.”
The manual now specifies that one of the Senate’s seats (of 24 total) must be held by a term faculty member, and it designates term faculty seats on Senate committees. Term faculty may also be eligible to run for election to the other Senate seats as well.
The Chronicle also reported that, while the new revision of the manual created a mechanism for adjunct faculty to challenge contract nonrenewal, AU also needed to devise new adjunct policies.
The Faculty Senate was planning on taking up issues of salary, both payment for an initial appointment and merit review, and reappointment for adjuncts during this year.
In the fall as Senate Chair I called for nominations for faculty to serve on a Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Adjunct Policies. I have been told that I now must put our work on hold until the results of the union election is known.
The Senate is prepared to take up issues of importance to adjuncts and will do so if they decide against union representation.
However if the majority of adjuncts vote for unionization, it represents a decision to leave the deliberative process of shared governance, which the Senate will respect, but we will no longer take up the issues related to adjunct faculty.
Instead, the process of negotiating salary and working conditions will become a matter of collective bargaining between union and university leaders. Rest assured, that unionized or not, we will continue to be colleagues and as I told the Chronicle, “I want our adjuncts to know that we respect and we value their work.”
It is critical that adjuncts vote. We all will be bound by the outcome of the election, and whether you vote or not, the outcome will be determined by a simple majority of those who vote.
Ballots were mailed by the NLRB Jan. 19 and must be returned prior to Feb. 16, when votes are counted. You can reference the unionization website via the link on the University’s home page for more information.
I strongly urge you to vote and let your voice be heard.
James E. Girard, Chair, Faculty Senate; Professor of Chemistry; Chair, Department of Chemistry