Unions for Private College Part-Timers

Collective bargaining at Syracuse U. represents a growing movement, say organizers.
January 19, 2006

Part-time faculty members at Syracuse University have voted to join the New York State United Teachers union and its national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers, becoming what one union organizer described as the latest "domino in a growing trend."

About 650 part-time faculty members will now have union representation at the institution. Before the vote, which occurred in December, Syracuse administrators released a statement, saying, "The university … would prefer to work directly with part-time and adjunct faculty to achieve mutually agreed upon goals, without an outside organization. The statement added, however, that the university "respects the right of employees to choose whether or not they are represented by a union."

With the union now in place, organizers expect to help part-timers negotiate a new contract with the institution in the coming months.

Mark Chaykin, director of field operations with the New York State United Teachers, said that the union, over all, is focused on "building density" among part-timers who work at private colleges and universities in the state.

Union organizers are increasingly optimistic about their chances of organizing part-timers at private institutions, given the dramatic growth in the number of part-time professors nationwide, what they say is a favorable set of conditions set forth by the National Labor Relations Board, and the recent contract victory for the United Auto Workers at New School University. In addition to New School, the UAW currently represents part-timers at New York University and at Goddard College, in Vermont.

At Syracuse, several faculty members are looking forward to negotiations, which they hope will improve the conditions under which they work. "Most of us don't even find out until the last minute whether there is a class being offered for us to teach," Diane Swords, an adjunct sociology instructor, told the New York Teacher, a publication of the New York State United Teachers, this week. Establishing seniority for adjuncts is another goal, according to the publication.

Adjuncts at other private institutions in New York, including Pace University, Dowling College and the Pratt Institute, are also represented by the New York State United Teachers union. The American Federation of Teachers reports that organizers are currently focusing on several private institutions to "assess interest" in forming unions. "We don’t hold elections unless we’re sure we can win," said Jamie Horwitz, a spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers.

The union now represents adjuncts at about 30 private institutions nationwide, according to Horwitz. They represent approximately 10 percent of the union’s 150,000 members.

One UAW organizer, while optimistic about future victories at private institutions, offered caution. "The biggest variable in organizing is whether the employer resists you or not," he said. "Philosophically, anyone should have a right to join a union, but the general mindset isn’t to that point yet."


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