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Tufts University adjuncts announced their successful union bid Thursday, making them the first to do so as part of a “metro strategy” to organize adjuncts across Boston.

Part-time adjuncts voted 128 to 57 to organize under the auspices of the Service Employees International Union, which also is driving efforts to unionize adjuncts across the Washington, D.C., area, Los Angeles and Washington State.

With access to health care benefits and relatively high per-course pay – at least $6,000 in most disciplines -- Tufts adjuncts say they are better off than many of their peers at other institutions. But with a five-year pay freeze that began in 2008 and recent changes to their rank and pay structure, adjuncts organized to protect those benefits, said Andy Klatt, longtime lecturer of Spanish and organizing committee member.

“It’s defensive,” he said. “The university has already started taking things away from us.... We’re relatively better off than others, but there certainly seems to be a desire on the part of the university to cut us down to size.”

The union hasn’t begun drafting a contract yet, but Klatt said it likely will bargain for reappointment rights, better compensation and more equitable pay per course across departments, in addition to protections for the other benefits they’ve long enjoyed, such as health care.

Kimberly Thurler, a Tufts spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that the university supported the right of its adjuncts in the School of Arts and Sciences to have “decided for themselves whether or not they wanted to unionize.”

Tufts has made clear it will do “its part to foster a good working relationship with SEIU,” Thurler said, as it strives to offer part-time faculty “the respect they deserve and pay and benefits that are highly competitive with peer institutions.”

She noted, however, said, that because a number of adjuncts did not participate in the election, just 45 percent of eligible adjuncts cast ballots in favor of the union.

Klatt said nearly 70 percent of eligible adjuncts turned out to vote, making the result decisive.

In addition to Tufts, Boston-area organization drives are under way at Bentley College, which will hold its election next month, and Northeastern University.

Jack Dempsey, adjunct instructor of English and public speaking at Bentley, said he was confident based on feedback from other adjuncts that the drive would be successful. Adjuncts, who work on a semester-to-semester basis, have said some kind of access to health care benefits and better job security are high bargaining priorities.

The metro effort promoted by SEUI is already under well way in the Washington, D.C., area, where adjuncts at American, Georgetown, and George Washington Universities, in addition to Montgomery College in Maryland, all have formed unions. SEIU officials there have said that an eventual metro union, which could help set pay rates and offer health insurance exchanges for adjuncts teaching at one or multiple institutions, is a long-term goal.

Wayne Langley, director of higher education for SEIU District 615 in Boston, said the Tufts election was a sign of things to come in that city and in higher education in general.

“It shows that people are concerned about the direction of higher education overall and nervous about what path it’s on,” he said. “That’s what’s driving unionization – the uncertainty in the industry and in its future.”

Langley attended the Tufts vote count Thursday and said it was “really wonderful, seeing people feeling like they had a little power over their lives.”


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