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Breakthrough for Part-Timers

November 1, 2005

In the wee hours of Monday morning, a part-time faculty strike at the New School was averted when the university reached an agreement with negotiators for Academics Come Together, a United Auto Workers local representing nearly 2,000 part-timers. Both university officials and union members are hailing the pact as significant because it will provide benefits and job security of the sort that adjuncts nationally have not been able to achieve to date.

Gregory Tewksbury, a union negotiator, said that the agreement provides job security for part-time employees who have been with the university for 10 semesters or more. “This is a sizable improvement,” he said. “Given that this is our first contract, I feel like we did the best we could without a strike.”

The deal followed three years of often tense negotiations between the union and the university. The UAW appealed to academics and politicians throughout the process to put pressure on the New School, which has strong progressive roots, but lacks the deep pockets to match its historic idealism.

“What’s most unique about this contract is that it offers faculty continued employment not just on a course by course basis," said Julie Kushner, a UAW negotiator who has been working with faculty members since they started organizing in 2002. “If a course doesn’t run because of a curriculum change or insufficient enrollment, the university must look to replace that course for a faculty member. They have an obligation to do that under this agreement.”

Calling the agreement “a tremendous boost for part-time faculty nationally,” Kushner added that the agreement also requires the university to begin to pay some of the costs of family coverage for health care and to offer paid academic leave for adjunct faculty members who have been with the institution for specified periods of time.

“We’ve looked at a lot of part-time contracts across the nation in recent weeks and months,” said Joel Schlemowitz, president of the local chapter and an adjunct film instructor at the university. “And we believe that adjunct unions will be looking at this agreement for years to come as a milestone in the part-time labor equity movement.”

New School’s lawyer, Ned Bassen, concurred with that assessment, indicating that administrators were “delighted and proud” to have come to an agreement. “This is the first time that a private university has agreed to give job security to part-time faculty,” he said Monday evening. “It took a great deal of work and creativity.”

As of Monday evening, the official agreement had not yet been released by either the union or the university, although officials did agree to discuss the pact.

In terms of wages, the agreement calls for an across the board retroactive increase of $10 per hour for each part-timer as of September 1, according to Tewksbury. He said that there’s a large variation in the hourly pay of different part-time faculty at New School. On the low end, instructors currently receive about $25 per hour. Schlemowitz, who has taught at the New School for nine years, said that he makes about $2,400 in total pay per three-credit class he teaches each semester.

“Folks on the lowest end of pay will also automatically get [a new] minimum base salary, which is about $35 plus the $10 raise,” said Tewksbury.

Additional wage increases -- up to a maximum of $15 per hour -- would be offered based on semesters of service to the university.        

Schlemowitz noted that by the end of the contract -- which would last four years if it is ultimately agreed to by a majority of the union, as expected -- part-time faculty would receive the same percentage of contributions toward retirement as full-time faculty.   

“We are confident that we’re going to be able to demonstrate that these kinds of agreements are beneficial to both the institution and individual faculty members,” said Kushner.  “I think this is really something to build on.... I hope that we are setting standards for other institutions.”

Experts not connected to the New School or UAW agreed. "This is an amazing contract," Richard Boris, director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions, at the City University of New York's Hunter College, said upon reviewing highlights of the accord. "This agreement might well serve as a template for contingent faculty throughout the country."

"At the end of this day," Boris said, referring to the controversies that preceded the agreement, "this case shows that if the parties at the table have the resolve to really work together to solve an issue, it can be done."

The New School has investigated the added costs of the agreement, according to Bassen, but officials said they preferred to hold off on providing details until union members vote on whether to accept the terms of the deal.  
 
Schlemowitz said he expects that union members will vote on the agreement before Thanksgiving.  Union organizers are recommending that members ratify the proposal.

After the long night of negotiations, Tewksbury, for one, was happy not to have to be outside with a picket sign in hand. Instead, he could revel in multiple congratulations from faculty members and students. “It was a Halloween gift to get this agreement hammered out,” he said. “And by the time we’re eating turkey, I’m confident that the contract will be a reality.” 

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