Adjuncts at Suffolk University, in Massachusetts, have voted to unionize, joining a growing coalition of their counterparts  at other private institutions. This week, the National Labor Relations Board announced that Suffolk part-timers voted 194 to 89 in favor of having the American Association of University Professors represent them in collective bargaining. Organizers with the AAUP say this action is the next step in their plans to make colleges in the Boston area more adjunct-friendly.
According to Mike Mauer, director of organizing for the AAUP, the region -- with its many colleges and universities -- remains ripe ground for union success. “Unfortunately, it’s incredibly fertile,” he says. “There is a hell of a lot of adjunct faculty members in the greater Boston area. ”In fact, according to the AAUP, the area has more part-time faculty members -- about 15,000 -- than anywhere else in the United States. The AAUP organized part-time faculty at Emerson College in 2001 and some organizers are looking at Northeastern as a next target.
At Suffolk, there are more than 400 part time instructors at the university this semester -- a figure that exceeds the 339 full-time faculty members. Adjuncts currently make between $3,000 and $4,000 per 3-credit course and are not eligible for any form of health insurance until they teach at least two a semester for seven years. Only 13 have participated in the program to date. Both salaries and health benefits are expected to be a major focus of contract negotiations.
At nearby the nearby University of Massachusetts at Boston, part-timers make a minimum of $4,000, with some making over $6,000 per course, plus health benefits. Instructors there are represented by the Massachusetts Teachers Association/National Education Association union.
Lawrence Kaye, an instructor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts at Boston who helped organize the Suffolk campaign, said that the Suffolk administration has greatly expanded the number of adjuncts there in recent years. “We’re talking about a university with a lot of money, which keeps expanding,” he says. “Yet, it seems like they have been shortchanging part-timers in favor of other development projects."
Patricia Maguire Meservey, provost of the university, said Thursday that she is disappointed that adjuncts voted to unionize. She added, “I respect the decision of our part-time faculty and will work with them through the process.”
Kaye says that adjuncts have worked with the administration for many years without much luck. He said that gains part-timers were able to make, like the health care benefits after seven years of work with low pay, “didn’t affect enough people to be reasonable.”
“I think that the provost misunderstands what a union is,” added Mauer. “She’s still going to be dealing with faculty members -- except now they’ll be organized.”
In response, Maguire Meservey said that this will be a new experience “for all of us.” “The faculty have not been unionized before,” she said, “and we expect to learn about this together.”