Six Months After Non-Tenure Track Faculty Ratified Their First Contract at Fordham University, Movement to Change Higher Education Expands in NYC Metropolitan Area
A delegation of Mercy College part-time and non-tenure track full-time faculty delivered a letter to College President Tim Hall this afternoon, announcing their efforts to organize and join Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 200United. (Read their letter here.) Joined by their tenured and tenure-track faculty allies, students, and other members of the campus community, members of the Mercy College Faculty Union Organizing Committee shared their stories of how they struggle to make ends meet.
Katherine Flaherty, a member of the union organizing committee and lecturer in the Seminars program, said, “We’re forming a union here at Mercy because winning representation – and equitable treatment and transparency – will improve the working conditions of educators, and in turn, the learning conditions of our students. We deserve better, and our students deserve better.”
Along with their letter announcing their push to unionize, members of the organizing committee also delivered a letter of support from Assemblymember Thomas Abinanti, whose district includes Mercy College’s Dobbs Ferry campus. (Read Assemblymember Abinanti’s letter here.)
Assemblymember Thomas Abinanti said, “All students deserve the chance to pursue their goals and ambitions at an institution of higher education. Mercy provides thousands of students with this opportunity each year. But it is you and your colleagues who play the most direct role in shaping the day-to-day learning experiences of each of these students. I am encouraged to know that you are coming together to form a labor organization that will add immeasurable value to Mercy’s community and learning environment over time.”
Shah Huq, another union organizing committee member and adjunct professor in the Natural Sciences department, said, “We’re excited to be joining a national movement of faculty organizing for better working conditions, and are also inspired by broad support from different faith and community groups. We are so grateful for the support of Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in our organizing push at Mercy College.”
The organizing effort is part of a national movement of higher education workers coming together for a voice on their college campuses. At Mercy College, over 600 part-time adjunct and non-tenure track full-time faculty work in a constant state of precarity, with no guarantee of reappointment semester-to-semester or the following academic year. Many adjunct faculty make only $2,100 per three-credit course, one of the lowest rates of pay in the New York City metropolitan area which has one of the highest costs of living in the country. Many adjuncts work at various colleges and universities across the region to cobble together an income.
Their push to join SEIU Local 200United comes just six months after approximately 800 non-tenure track faculty at Fordham University ratified landmark first contracts for both part-time adjunct and non-tenure track full-time faculty. The three-year contracts feature substantial increases in pay – between 67% and 90% – for adjunct faculty and raises the minimum salary for full-time contingent faculty to $64,000. It also establishes longer-term appointments and a professional development fund. The agreement was struck after just four months of bargaining with the university administration and ratified in June 2018.
“In our first roll-out year working under a union contract, SEIU members at Fordham have felt the rewards of powerful mobilizing – in increased salaries, a path to better job security, funds for attending conferences, and a recognition of our vital role in the University,” said Fordham Faculty United/SEIU Local 200United Co-Chairs Josh Jordan and Kate Wilson. “We want to see contingent faculty at Mercy College enjoy the same ability to form a union and to work toward better conditions for educational work.”
Members of the campus community joined the union organizing committee members in delivering their letter to President Tim Hall. They called on the college administration to remain neutral and allow for a free and fair election, as the Fordham University administration did when faculty voted to join SEIU Local 200United in the fall of 2017.
Leslie Oberhofer, a student at Mercy College who recently wrote in the Guardan about one of her professors who was on the verge of homelessness, said, “As students, we need our professors to be focused on class preparation, instruction and grading – not where they’ll sleep at night. That means investing in our professors.”
Lisa Jessup, a representative of Local 2110, UAW, which represents the support staff at Mercy College, said, “Adjunct faculty are dedicated professionals and are essential to College and Universities, yet their work is often underpaid, with few benefits and little job security. We wholeheartedly support the adjunct faculty at Mercy College in forming a union and coming together to improve working conditions and secure more rights on the job.”
Over the next few weeks, the union organizing committee will continue to have conversations with other contingent faculty members across Mercy College. They hope to file for their union election with the National Labor Relations Board and vote before the end of the semester.