by Jeff Cech
I am a union organizer, not an adjunct. I was given permission to write an entry for this blog, and I’m honored to do so. In March 2012 I was hired by the United Steelworkers (USW), and was made lead organizer on the adjuncts’ campaign at Duquesne University in the McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts. The adjunct faculty members I’ve met in the last several months have been some of the most decent, hardest working people I’ve had the good fortune of shaking hands with.
The Duquesne adjuncts first approached the USW during the 2011 Spring Semester, and our Assistant Director of Organizing, Maria Somma, asked them to investigate traditional faculty unions. They returned because they were drawn to the clout the USW has in the Pittsburgh area and our dedication to a democratic union with a high level of autonomy in our Locals. We’re glad they chose the USW, and we’re excited to represent them in collective bargaining.
Organizing at Duquesne started with a word of mouth campaign that included handing out pamphlets spelling out the reasons for organizing a union and the process of doing so. Over the course of a year, the Adjunct Association of the United Steelworkers quietly grew support from adjunct and tenure track colleagues in various departments of the College. Shortly after I came on board, we started asking adjunct faculty members to sign union authorization cards.
Union Authorization cards are what allow a union to ask the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to run an election. When you collect cards from a minimum of 30% of the proposed bargaining unit and turn them in to the NLRB, the government agency begins a conversation between the union and the employer that will determine which employees have the right to vote in the election and a date for the election to take place. When the union wins a simple majority of votes cast, the employer is obligated to begin bargaining in good faith to produce a contract.
Employees everywhere are naturally afraid of their bosses, and this makes many hesitant to sign union authorization cards. They’re afraid that it will get back to the employer that they signed a card and they’ll lose their job. Some employers use scare tactics and bring in expensive “consultants” to intimidate workers. From what I’ve observed, universities don’t need to. The instability of the entire adjunct system creates a high enough level of work place anxiety on its own. When you rely on employment that must be renewed before every semester, you don’t have low job security, you have no job security. This heightens the sense of risk for adjuncts, and makes it hard for them to stand up for themselves. When you work long, tiring hours, but you’re paid so little that you live below the poverty line, it erodes an individual’s sense of dignity. Many who work as adjunct instructors for an extended period of time begin to think they get what they’re worth, which simply isn’t true at any university I’ve seen. Like all workers, adjuncts deserve Job Security, Equitable Wages, Respectful Treatment by management (administration), and Access to Healthcare. The adjuncts at Duquesne have worked hard to organize a difficult campaign, and it’s far from over.
The election will take place by mail ballot through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). On June 22 the NLRB will send out the ballots to adjunct instructors, and after two weeks pass, on July 9, a board officer will count votes from ballots returned to them.
If you support our effort, no matter where you are, please send Letters to the Editor of our local papers (The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Pittsburgh Tribune Review) encouraging the adjuncts at Duquesne, and email the Duquesne adjuncts’ Volunteer Organizing Committee (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we can pass on your messages of solidarity.
The use of an exploited workforce is on the rise at institutions of higher education, and it’s the responsibility of all workers to stand together and demand fairness for adjuncts. That’s why the United Steelworkers have given me the go ahead to organize adjuncts at any college or university in the Pittsburgh area where members of the workforce express interest. If you’re an adjunct in Pittsburgh and you want to organize with the USW, email me at email@example.com.