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Adjuncts from more than 20 Boston-area colleges announce plans to unionize

Posted by Your Town  April 11, 2013 10:22 AM

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Adjunct and non-tenured professors from more than 20 Boston-area colleges want to form a union in the hopes of achieving better wages, benefits, and job security.

According to the Service Employees International Union, an organization that has unionized more than 15,000 adjunct professors from across the country, a group of non-tenured professors will meet with the SEIU on Saturday to discuss their efforts to unionize.

The SEIU said in a statement that part-time and non-tenure track faculty represent the majority of faculty at universities in the United States, and their numbers continue to rise. In 2011, part-time faculty held 50 percent of teaching jobs at colleges, up from 34 percent in 1987 and 22 percent in 1970. Among private, non-profit universities in the Boston-area, 66.8 percent of faculty are non-tenure track and 42 percent are part-time.

“Revenues and tuition have increased steadily over the last two decades while spending on instruction has declined – and it’s adjuncts and their students who are suffering as a result,” the statement said.

The adjunct faculty at Emerson College voted to unionize in 2001, and since then have gained benefits and better wages.According to the Emerson union’s website, adjunct faculty have negotiated seniority benefits such as access to medical and dental plans, as well as pay increases of 2 percent to 4 percent each year.

And at Suffolk University, the adjunct faculty at the College of Arts and Sciences and Sawyer Business School are unionized, according to a university spokesman.

Adjunct professor Dr. Jack Dempsey of Bentley University said in a phone interview Thursday that the part-time professors are extremely hesitant to unionize, for fear of losing their jobs. But he believes this movement could change everything.

“Adjuncts have an illusion that they are powerless to help themselves,” Dempsey said. “But when they realize that they are the core of the school...they will begin to respect themselves enough to take action.”

Dempsey, who received his doctorate from Brown University, said he taught as an adjunct at Wheaton College in Norton for three years, and has been teaching part-time at Bentley University for the past 11 years.

At Bentley he earns approximately $4,700 per class, and at Wheaton the pay was even less, Dempsey said. To supplement his income, he takes on odd jobs such as book editing and tutoring.

“If I had a real job from Bentley, I would be there on the weekend with hammer and nails, giving to the school,” Dempsey said. “But [adjuncts] simply don’t have the means to do that.”

Anne McLeer, spokeswoman for the SEIU, said that the organization represents close to 2,000 part-time faculty at The George Washington University, Montgomery College, and American University.

“We’ve made considerable gains in terms of money, job security, and giving them a voice,” she said in a phone interview.

McLeer said that the SEIU has helped the adjuncts at Montgomery College and George Washington University to negotiate better contracts. The SEIU is in talks with American University, and is also working to unite part-time faculty at community colleges across Maryland.

"To really get things where we need to them to be is to unionize across the labor market,” she said.

Dempsey also said that despite the low pay and lack of benefits, he is passionate about his work at Bentley.

“I just want to say how much I love Bentley and how much I want to build value in these schools,” he said. “But you just can’t in these conditions.”

Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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