Part Timers Say No to Union

October 6, 2006

The Community College of Vermont is quite proudly an anomaly in its approach to faculty hiring: It is rare among institutions in maintaining a faculty made up entirely of part-time instructors, who are arrayed on 12 centers and teach online in the sprawling and sparsely populated state. For that and other reasons, the Vermont institution was a coveted target in the burgeoning movement to unionize part-time instructors, and the American Federation of Teachers waged a two-year campaign to win over the CCV faculty.

The Vermont institution is now exceptional in another way, too: Its part-time faculty members broke with recent trends in rejecting unionization this week. Wednesday, the Vermont Labor Relations Board reported that the two-year college's faculty members had voted by a margin of 260 to 144 not to unionize. A total of 87 percent of those eligible to vote did so, a result that President Timothy Donovan said was almost as important to him as the fact that the union was rejected. "I'm pleased not only that they have made the choice they have made, but that they've made such a clear choice," Donovan said.

AFT officials question just how much choice part-timers at the Community College of Vermont really professors had.

William E. Scheuerman, a vice president of the national union, said college officials had engaged in a "union busting campaign that is probably the nastiest one we've evern seen," and that instructors, at one on one, "captive audience" meetings with their supervisors, "were told, 'If you join a union, you may lose your job,' and in some cases, we think, were told, 'You will lose your job.' "

Jamie Horwitz, an AFT spokesman, said the Vermont institution had engaged in an "amount of anti-union activity unprecedented in the public higher education sector," although he and Scheuerman said they could provide few details about the nature of that activity. "What we know for sure is that this flies in the face of Vermont's values, and is a campaign they should be ashamed of."

Donovan said he had not heard any such complaints directly, and that in conversations with staff and faculty members as the union drive unfolded, the community college's administrators "were very clear with anyone in a supervisory role about what they could or could not do," he said. "We think we have been careful about that."

This week's vote capped a more than two year campaign by the AFT to unionize CCV's instructors, which focused on many of the same issues that have characterized adjunct unionization drives elsewhere: job security, pay, lack of health benefits. The union petitioned the state labor board in April for a vote, and college officials sent several mailings to the nearly 450 instructors, arguing strongly against the creation of a union, and created an election Web site that included a page on which faculty members could express their views. Dozens of them did so, on both sides of the debate.

Ballots were mailed in from September 8 through September 29, and the state labor board counted them and released the tally Wednesday.

Donovan, the president, said he hoped to build on the "very active faculty community" that had been energized by the union vote to "work together on the questions raised by the election: how we approach compensation and faculty evaluation, and big issues that I don't know we'll find any way to get at, such as health insurance."

AFT officials had expressed optimism about the Vermont vote, and they expressed anger and disappointment in the wake of the vote. "They think they're going to scare us away with their fear campaign, but they're not," said Scheuerman.

Union activists on the Vermont campus could not be reached for comment, but they seemed to be taking a slightly less combative and more forward-looking approach. As of Thursday, the CCV Faculty Federation had already transformed its Web site from a campaign vehicle to one designed "to specifically advocate for health insurance and job security for CCV adjuncts."

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