In 2014, we launched a project to organize adjunct and contingent faculty at colleges and universities across Upstate New York. In the past two and a half years, because of the strength of our union, our ranks have grown by over 2,000 new members across Upstate New York and even expanding our union’s geography into Vermont. Alongside building and grounds workers and food service workers, our members now work at over 25 colleges in both states. At the recent SEIU International Convention, we joined with our sister locals in Boston, Chicago, the Bay Area in California, and Washington, D.C., to set an ambitious goal: organize 10,000 faculty under the Faculty Forward division of our union in the next three years. Now, newly organized members of SEIU Local 200United are fighting to win new contracts and organize their colleagues at other colleges.
Faculty Forward in Burlington Area, VT
In Colchester, Vermont, members at Saint Michael’s College recently won a fair, first contract – the first contract for adjunct faculty at a private college in the state. After a year of bargaining, working with students and their full time colleagues, roughly 100 adjuncts secured a significant wage increase – 10% to 15% in the first year of the contract – along with establishing a professional development fund and a course cancellation fee of $1,000 that will, in the future, decrease the last-minute cancellation of classes that blindsides both adjuncts and students. Said Katie Powell, a member of the negotiating committee and a newly elected officer of the Saint Michael’s College Chapter, after the contract was unanimously ratified by members, “It’s been a rewarding experience working together with my adjunct colleagues and the St. Michael’s administration to secure improvements which will benefit adjuncts and students alike. It is my hope that this contract will become the foundation for a bright future for all of us here at St. Michael’s.” Later this year, Katie and her colleagues will return to the table for a wage reopener.
At Champlain College, 200 adjuncts voted overwhelmingly in 2014 to have a voice on their campus. Since then, they have been at the table for over a year and a half and the college administration continues to resist their two key demands: job security and pay parity with their full time colleagues. Just up the road from Champlain College, the University of Vermont is the largest employer in the Burlington region and pays their adjuncts double, according to Robb Williams, a member of the negotiating committee who teaches at both colleges, but the Champlain administration refuses to budge on their insultingly low wage proposal. “We are the faculty that is directly involved in the core mission – education — of a nonprofit enterprise called [Champlain College]. But the current pay scale treats us like an afterthought,” says Genevieve Jacobs, another member of the negotiating committee. Adding even more insult to injury, it was recently revealed that the former president of Champlain College, David Finney, was paid over $1.1 million in his last year at the college. Working with students, members at Champlain continue to mobilize over the summer and to plan for a final push for a fair first contract in the fall semester.
Faculty Forward in the Capital District
After 16 months of bargaining and almost two years to the date of the initial organizing committee meeting, adjuncts at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York, ratified their first contract in April. They too won significant gains – 24% to 35% wage increases over three years, improved job security including 1-year appointments, a $20,000 professional development fund, and, for the first time, guaranteed shared office spaces for 100% of adjuncts at the college. Bradley Russell, chair of the Saint Rose Adjunct Faculty Union and member of the negotiating committee, said, “This new contract will benefit our faculty for years to come and hopefully serve as a model for similar efforts at other local institutions. We have been proud to be at the leading edge of a national fight for fair wages, respect and better working conditions for part time faculty. This contract, which represents nearly two years of work, is a significant first step in that fight.”
The hard-fought win was only possible with the incredible support from students and full time faculty, who are currently under siege and fighting to win their own union alongside their adjunct colleagues. The fight against the corporate model in academia is still underway at Saint Rose, which last December – just weeks before Christmas – announced it would lay off 23 tenured and tenure-track faculty and eliminate 28 academic programs. In response, students and faculty organized rallies and other actions, including a mock funeral to mourn the cuts. A majority of the faculty signed union authorization cards and demanded President Carolyn Stefanco recognize their union with SEIU Local 200United. They also overwhelmingly voted no confidence in the leadership of President Stefanco and at the recent national meeting of the American Association of University Professors, The College of Saint Rose administration was censured for its attacks on academic freedom and essentially rendering tenure meaningless.
At Siena College in Loundonville, adjuncts and visiting faculty continue to work towards a first contract. While the college administration continues to insist on dividing adjuncts and visiting into different units and under different contracts, the negotiating committee is presenting a united front, made up of both visiting and adjunct faculty and is not falling for their divide and conquer strategy. Likewise at Schenectady County Community College, adjuncts continue to fight for a fair first contract after winning voluntary recognition of their union in April of last year.
Faculty Forward in the Finger Lakes
After a landslide victory, part-time lecturers at Ithaca College immediately set out to organize their full-time contingent colleagues all while bargaining for their first contract. They held teach-ins to educate students on what it means to be contingent faculty and how contingency impacts students at Ithaca College and across the country. “Our programs are like a jigsaw puzzle put together, and when we lose a contingency person for whatever reason, it’s like we lost a piece of the jigsaw puzzle forever, and your program no longer goes together as well as it did,” said Jon Hilton, an instructor in the Department of Media Arts, Sciences and Studies.
When Ithaca College administrators refused to voluntarily recognize full-timers’ overwhelming majority support for joining Local 200United, they filed with the National Labor Relation Board and in April, and they won! “Now that we have voted to form a union for full-time contingent faculty, our next goal is to join our part-time colleagues already at the bargaining table and negotiate one contract with our administration,” said Rachel Gunderson, instructor in health promotion and physical education and member of the organizing committee. “We believe that as one group of contingent faculty, we can negotiate for a stronger academic program for both faculty and students.”
Already full timers are joining their part time colleagues, sending a clear message to the boss of their unity. Together they are demanding pay parity with tenured and tenure-track faculty, improved job security – including longer term appointments which so far the administration has refused – and for one contract that covers all contingent faculty at Ithaca College. Shoshe Cole, now a member of the negotiating committee and assistant professor of physics and astronomy, explained the importance of one contract: “The administration doesn’t want to recognize us as an united group, but we feel like a united group. Many of us have the same issues surrounding contingency, such as getting contracts very late. Sometimes the part-timers are getting contracts for fall in August, and for the spring in December or January … We generally get ours earlier than that, but we’re still getting contracts too late to plan our lives.” At the most recent bargaining session, the negotiating committee presented the college administration a letter signed by over 130 members – a vast majority of both part-time and full-time faculty – demanding that the college negotiate one contract and abandon their union-busting divide and conquer strategy.
All of this coincided with a student uprising against the Ithaca College administration which garnered unprecedented national attention. Students organized and rallied for months and occupied buildings on campus in protest over racial discrimination on campus. The uprising led to students and faculty voting overwhelming no confidence in the leadership of President Rochon who has now announced he will resign soon.
Down the road, over 40 adjunct and visiting faculty at Wells College voted 3-to-1 to unite with their Ithaca College colleagues. “We organized to form a union to strengthen Wells College and make it a better environment for the students, the full time faculty, and the contingent faculty. By organizing we gain a voice which will allow us to participate more fully in providing a higher academic standard and ensure a more stable and consistent faculty,” said Laura Campbell, a music department lecturer, after the vote count. They will be heading to the bargaining table for the first time this month.
Partnering With Other Unions
Along with new organizing in the Faculty Forward division of our union, we have also partnered with small, independent unions at other colleges across Upstate New York. At the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, working with the Culinary Craft Association, their members are pushing back against the administration’s efforts to subcontract out their work and eliminate good union jobs in the Hudson Valley. At the Sage Colleges in Albany and Troy, we partnered with SEIU Local 51, whose approximately 40 members perform maintenance and housekeeping on both campuses, and supported them at the bargaining table. After months of resistance from the college administration, Sage workers ultimately reached a four year contract that secured ~20% wage increases in the first year of the contract for lowest paid workers on campus and 9% increases over three years on the starting rates of pay for all job classifications, along with 9% increases across the board for all workers. Newly elected executive board member and chair of the Bard College Building and Grounds Chapter Steve Pinchbeck was critical in making these two partnerships happen.