California Colleges Experience Rise in Efforts to Unionize Part-Time Faculty

seiuA recent surge of unionization efforts across California’s college campuses and the rest of the nation are rooted in the frustrations of part-time and adjunct faculty who are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with what they feel are poor working conditions and a lack of job security.

At almost a dozen of California’s private colleges, adjunct faculty members are hosting first-time contract negotiations or are requesting the right to be able do so. One of the main grievances of these part-time and adjunct faculty members is working semester to semester without any knowledge of whether they’ll be kept on, in addition to the lack of health benefits. In some instances, part-time and adjunct faculty members commute between several campuses in order to make ends meet.

Though union activists and supporters are optimistic in regards to negotiating better working conditions and having a stronger voice in how campuses are managed, many college administrators are concerned that union contracts would create less flexibility in terms of hiring in addition to increasing tuition costs.

Last week, chapters of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in the Los Angeles area as well as in Northern California were successful in winning faculty elections allowing them to represent part-time professors at Otis College of Art and Design in Westchester and Dominican University of California in San Rafael, in addition to part-time and non-permanent full-time faculty at St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga. Months earlier, the union also succeeded in winning votes among part-time faculty Whittier College, Mills College and California College of the Arts in Oakland, San Francisco Art Institute and Laguna College of Art and Design.

Andrea Bowers has taught one or two art courses per semester at Otis college for the last five years, and typically earns $3,000 for each class in addition to $1,000 to mentor students’ studio work. On top of this, she also struggles to balance her own career as a professional artist and other teaching assignments.

“A living wage is really crucial,” she said. “It’s no surprise that the SEIU is simultaneously organizing McDonald’s workers and part-time college teachers.”

Aside from increased pay and more certainty in regards to job security during the academic year, Bowers, like many other part-time and adjunct faculty members, feel a union contract would force colleges to become more transparent about their budgets. According to Bowers, it “would be wonderful” if colleges and faculty to work together in order to find a solution to their financial woes.

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