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Part-Time Faculty Vote for Union 2 to 1

Next step: contract negotiations


The tally of a mail-in vote that capped a six-month campaign by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to represent Boston University’s part-time faculty showed 319 votes for the union and 158 against; 10 ballots were challenged and 7 were voided. SEIU Local 509 will now begin negotiations with the University about issues that are expected to include compensation, working conditions, and part-time faculty’s role in decision-making.

Juditra Burgess, BU’s labor relations director, says the University welcomes talks with the SEIU, whose Local 32BJ has long represented BU’s service and maintenance employees. “We look forward to continuing to work with the SEIU,” says Burgess. “We have a long history of more than 60 years of working together, and we look forward to negotiating a new contract for our part-time faculty.”

Julie Sandell, associate provost for faculty affairs and a School of Medicine professor of anatomy and neurobiology, says she also welcomes the coming talks. “We greatly appreciate every person who took the time to consider the issues and vote in this election,” Sandell says. “Part-time faculty will continue to be a valuable component of our faculty and I look forward to the next steps. I hope that the collective bargaining process will allow us to address best practices for the employment of part-time faculty in areas that will strengthen the relationship between our faculty, our students, and the University.”

In recent months, part-time faculty demanding better pay and benefits have pushed for unionization at colleges and universities across the country. On October 27, 2014, Tufts part-time faculty became the first at a local institution to approve a contract. Their new agreement grants a 22 percent pay raise over the next three years, and for those who teach three or more courses over the academic year, access to health, retirement, tuition reimbursement, and other employee benefits. Part-time faculty at Northeastern and Lesley Universities have also voted to unionize in recent months, and similar campaigns are under way at Bentley University and Simmons College.

Jason Stephany, Local 509 director of communications, says the vote represents a significant victory for non-tenure-track faculty throughout the greater Boston area. He says some 750 BU adjunct faculty have now joined Faculty Forward—an SEIU Local 509 project that works to raise faculty pay. Stephany says negotiations with the University should begin in the coming months, and will initially discuss concerns of the faculty and the administration and what they can do together to improve the learning experience on campus.

A union press release quotes Laurie LaPorte (GRS’07), a College of Arts & Sciences lecturer in anthropology: “We started with a simple premise: If excellence in learning is the core mission of our university, then we need real investment in the classroom—in the equitable, sustainable treatment of all educators. Today, with the support of our students, colleagues, and community allies, we’ve taken a major step toward improving the learning experience at Boston University. Together we are stronger.”

The outcome of the secret ballot mail-in election, which ran from January 13 to 30, was determined by a simple majority of those part-time faculty who returned their ballots. The voting unit, which was determined last fall by the National Labor Relations Board, consisted of part-time faculty in all schools and colleges, except for the Goldman School of Dental Medicine and the School of Medicine, although it includes MED’s Division of Graduate Medical Sciences. The unit included part-time faculty who are paid on a per-course or per-hour basis and who teach at least one credit-bearing course in a degree-granting program. The unit did not include full-time faculty, whether tenured, tenure-track, or on contracts, and it excluded visiting faculty, graduate assistants, faculty who teach only online or who teach at campuses outside Massachusetts, a variety of administrators, and athletics coaches.

“BU adjuncts have made a clear decision, overwhelmingly choosing unionization as the best way to make our university a better place to teach and to learn,” says Dan Hunter (GRS’98), a CAS lecturer in English and a Metropolitan College Arts Administration Program lecturer, who was also quoted in the union’s press release. “I am proud to be part of a national movement working for better pay, improved stability, and a real voice in the decisions that impact educators and our students.”

Art Jahnke

Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu.

18 Comments on Part-Time Faculty Vote for Union 2 to 1

  • Bruce on 02.05.2015 at 6:41 am

    Congratulations!!! This is great news for the future of BU.

    • anonymous on 02.05.2015 at 8:21 am

      And for the educational sharecroppers known as adjuncts!

      • Zachary W Bos on 02.05.2015 at 10:59 am

        We’re a University community. If you have a dissenting view, share it at length, and not anonymously.

  • Joe on 02.05.2015 at 11:18 am

    Sad. I don’t want union “representation,” but because a simple majority of my colleagues do, we all get lumped together. If some people want to join together to negotiate for themselves, more power to you. Forcing the rest of us to go along with you while using coercive power to extract dues from me to pay for something I do not want is tyranny, pure and simple.

    • Ryan on 02.05.2015 at 11:32 am

      How do you distinguish this from the government’s power to force you pay taxes and declare a legal status so long as you live on US soil?

      Is that automatically tyranny?

      • Joe on 02.05.2015 at 12:23 pm

        Yes. Anything but a voluntary transaction is shameful. I feel I am fairly compensated by the University for my services and treated well. I neither want nor need a union to “advocate” for me.

    • Andrew Wolfe on 02.05.2015 at 2:58 pm

      +10 Joe

    • Jose on 02.06.2015 at 8:56 pm

      Dear Joe, with respect, you are misinformed. You will not have to join a union if you don’t want to. You may have to pay what’s known as an agency fee to help cover costs of securing the many benefits, including raises, that you’ll have access to as adjunct faculty at BU. Agency fees exist in part to prevent the kind of freeloading that some people will inevitably exploit when there’s a chance to get something for nothing. You will almost certainly benefit from this union victory & the upcoming negotiations. Please show some gratitude for those who sacrificed time & effort to advance your interests along with theirs. They also did this at some risk to their own jobs. Despite retaliation being illegal, it happens a lot, & it’s hard to punish because it’s hard to prove conclusively. Union activists make tremendous efforts on other peoples’ behalf. Please respect them & their endeavors.

  • Ryan on 02.05.2015 at 11:19 am

    Wonderful news. Despite the University’s attempts to avoid a just enfranchisement of a huge number of workers educating the students who pay outrageous tuition, the just cause has prevailed.

    Hopefully in the future we will see BU reduce administrative bloat and continue to invest in the actual purpose of higher education.

  • bu-realist on 02.05.2015 at 12:41 pm

    Well… congrats to them, and to the students and parents that will pay for their newly inflated salaries and benefits.

    Just don’t complain in the following years when tuition sky-rockets ‘inexplicably’.

    • Jose on 02.06.2015 at 9:02 pm

      Dear BU sur-realist, if tuition & fees go up, it will be quite explicable. It’ll be because the BU admin chooses to pass on the minimal costs of a fair contract to students. As another commenter notes, reducing administrative bloat would help in many ways, including living wages for faculty without shafting the students.

  • Howard I. Cohen on 02.05.2015 at 5:11 pm

    Unions typically result when there are abuses of labor. The classic corporate model of the perfect employee is slavery. Since that isn’t doable, management does the next best thing. It squeezes its employees as hard as it can. A great example is the style of hiring ‘temps’ to avoid paying benefits. Now the ‘temps’ are organizing. No surprise. Of course as the union becomes stronger, they begin to be the abuser. And the battle goes on. Do we call that scenario an example of good management???

    What I found interesting in the ‘BU vs Adjunct’ instance is that while all the talk of Adjuncts organizing was going on, the school decided to change the ratio of employee to school contribution for the cost of medical and dental insurance. From God knows when, till Dec. 31, 2013 all employees contributed approx. 1/3 and the school paid 2/3 of the cost. Starting Jan. 1, 2014 part timers had to pay 1/2 and the school paid the other half. That’s 17% increase in the cost of health insurance levied on Adjuncts. What was remarkable about that is that it went on while the school was suggesting that there was no merit in organizing. Meanwhile Pres. Brown made the announcement of the change in that ratio as a necessary economy measure to offset the seriously escalating cost of the insurance. The reality is that the total premium charges for one of the very popular, very comprehensive BCBS plans only went up 2% from 2013 to 2014. Can anyone identify a single gesture on the part of the school to really discourage part timers from organizing. Citing an old canard, the school was busy shooting itself in the foot.

    I think it would be very fitting for an agenda item in any new labor contract negotiation to be restoring the ratio for paying for health insurance.

    As for those who vigorously assert their desire to be a “one man (or woman) union” I ask – how much are you now paying for health insurance? In some cases he/she doesn’t care about this because the spouse works for an organization that is more liberal. BTW – I understand that the Harvard University medical system pays 90% and the employee pays 10%. I don’t know if that is true, nor do I know if it applies to part timers.
    But certainly the Adjunct’s ‘negotiating team’ should look into it…

    • Anon on 02.07.2015 at 9:21 am

      So if Harvard has better benefits, why don’t you go work there? Unlike the slavery you cited, you’re free to go work at any university in the world if you don’t like BU.

  • What? on 02.05.2015 at 7:03 pm

    What? I’m a part-time faculty in the summer term and never received a ballot. I would have voted against this. Annoyed.

  • Andrew Wolfe on 02.05.2015 at 7:43 pm

    I would like to know how many ballots were distributed, and how many were returned with valid votes.

    • Art Jahnke, BU Today on 02.05.2015 at 7:57 pm

      The number returned with valid votes would be the sum of the 319 for and the 158 against the union.

  • James Iffland on 02.07.2015 at 12:00 am

    Congratulations to my colleagues for this important victory! Taking into account the conditions typically faced by adjunct faculty, both at BU and elsewhere, voting for unionization was the only rational vote possible. BU has taken very significant steps in bettering the situation of non-tenure-track faculty in recent years, particularly with respect to those who work here full-time. In the face of the unionization effort, steps had begun to be taken to ameliorate the conditions of part-time faculty. But even had the BU administration had more time to improve the lot of the part-timers, there was ultimately fairly little that it could do. We’re talking here about the huge process of re-engineering that higher education as a whole is undergoing in the U.S. The “industry” (as higher education is referred to by some high ranking university administrators) is going in the direction of the other industries in the current economy: maximum flexibility for the employers in terms of hiring and firing employees according to the dictates of the moment (largely in the interest, of course, of maximizing profits) and minimal job security (and generally anemic salary compensation and benefits) for the employees. As the percentage of adjunct faculty continues to grow at an ever-increasing rate here in the U.S., there will come a time when young women and men thinking of pursuing a career teaching in higher education will wonder whether it makes any sense to pursue an advanced degree (which take years of hard work and personal sacrifice) if what waits for them at the end of the road is a badly paid job with zero security and no benefits to speak of. As more and more make the rational choice to pursue a future elsewhere in the economy, the “industry” of higher education will find itself hard-pressed to find qualified people to teach students. The unionization of adjunct faculty across the country serves as a much-needed wake-up call for colleges and universities. While it might make good “business sense” to keep hiring adjunct faculty within the current parameters, how will things look when they’re all unionized (as will inevitably happen)? At that point there will be much Monday-night quarterbacking, calling into question the plays called by “industry” leadership (both administrators and boards of trustees) starting roughly 30 years ago. Vigorous unions representing adjunct faculty will very probably end up costing colleges and universities much more money than they would have had to pay out had they opted for other paths available to them. Bad choices always come with a cost…

    • Jose on 02.07.2015 at 8:30 pm

      Jim Iffland’s comment reflects the kind of long-term thinking & strategizing that is sorely needed to build a decent future for US higher ed. Too bad the majority of college administrators can’t really see beyond their own next paycheck. Applying the business model to higher ed is now exposed as the failure it is.

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