Adjuncts rally for help

Faculty and students gathered Wednesday in support of better work conditions for adjuncts.

by Benjamin Farniok

Members of one of the nation’s largest labor union organizations joined other demonstrators at the University of Minnesota to discuss adjunct faculty’s working conditions, which they said have room for improvement.

Armed with signs and flyers, about two dozen calm University faculty members and students gathered on Wednesday afternoon in front of Northrop Auditorium as part of National Adjunct Walkout Day.

The event seemingly marked the first public meeting at the University to recognize issues adjuncts face, which demonstrators said include low pay, heavy workloads and little job security.

The gathering was not an actual walkout, which the Minnesota Public Employment Labor Relations Act forbids, but instead was a “solidarity demonstration,” said cultural studies and comparative literature senior lecturer Meredith Gill, who attended the event.

The gathering comes more than a year after a new movement to unionize Twin Cities adjuncts started. Adjunct Action, a national Service Employees International Union campaign, started a push at area schools to unite contingent workers, citing their less-than-ideal working conditions.

Though Wednesday’s event wasn’t a part of that campaign, SEIU Local 284 members attended to show their support.

“To make improvements, in higher education specifically, we need to have everyone at the table,” SEIU Local 284 organizing director Denise Welte said. “That’s how we start the conversations on the issues that faculty face every day.”

With the demonstration, attendees aimed to raise University students’ awareness about adjuncts’ working conditions, said Erin Trapp, a cultural studies and comparative literature senior lecturer and event organizer.

“We are trying to make the presence of lecturers and adjuncts on campus visible to students, faculty, administration — everyone at the University,” she said.

As some students walked by the meetup outside Northrop Auditorium’s doors, demonstrators informed them about the presence of adjuncts and other contingent faculty at the University.

One supporter held a sign, asking passersby if they knew if their instructors were full-time faculty members, adjuncts or non-tenure track faculty.

“Just in my own classes, yesterday, I told students about how many of their professors were adjuncts and what that means, and nobody had any idea,” Gill said. “We are trying to just educate students about our working conditions.”

Because of some adjuncts’ short-term contracts, many of them feel uncomfortable speaking out about their conditions, said cultural studies and comparative literature graduate student Marla Zubel. There’s a fear that they could face unemployment when their contract expires.

Demonstrators said they plan to meet at the state Capitol during the University’s Board of Regents election next Wednesday to continue the discussion.

“The adjunct problem is not someone else’s problem,” Zubel said. “Their fight for a living wage and job security should be our fight.”