Adjuncts move to unionize

Hamline and Macalester are progressing with unionization, but the University is lagging.

by Meghan Holden

While some adjunct faculty from private colleges around the Twin Cities are moving swiftly to unionize, progress at the University of Minnesota is slower.

Adjunct faculty at Macalester College and Hamline University in St. Paul took the first steps to form unions last week after less than four months of efforts to organize. But at the much larger University of Minnesota, the movement will need to get more students on board to gain traction.

Adjunct Action, a national campaign by the Service Employees International Union to unite contingent workers, opened an office in the Twin Cities in January to reach out to adjunct faculty in the area.

Carol Nieters, executive director of SEIU Local 284, said adjunct faculty at the University are in the early stages of organizing and any progress will take time and student support.

SooJin Pate, a campus organizer and adjunct professor at Macalester, said students have had a large impact on the movement’s success there.

“It really wasn’t until the students got involved that there was this burst of energy and excitement,” she said.

Macalester students gathered Thursday to celebrate the institution’s adjunct faculty. At the event, faculty members announced they had filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board. The board will decide whether there’s enough support in the Macalester community to schedule a vote for unionization.

Adjunct faculty at Hamline filed a similar petition the next day.

Pate said it may be easier for adjunct faculty at small schools or private colleges to unite because faculty members have a close-knit community among themselves and with their students.

“Knowing that students are out there, that they’re willing to be on the front lines showing their support for us, gives us the courage to do the same,” Pate said.

Though adjunct faculty at the University haven’t yet made major strides, Pate said, she’s confident they’ll eventually organize because unionizing is the only way working conditions will improve.

The salary gap

One of the largest problems echoed among adjunct faculty nationwide is low pay for long hours.

Adjunct faculty
accounted for nearly half of all faculty nationwide last year, but they report a median salary that’s about half of what full-time professors make, according to a January report by the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Juliet Patterson, a creative writing adjunct professor at Hamline, has worked at the school for eight years. But her time as a teacher may be coming to an end, she said, because it’s growing harder to support herself.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I didn’t know it was going to be this tough,” she said.

Nieters said low wages aren’t uncommon for adjunct faculty and Adjunct Action is fighting to combat the pay gap between full-time professors and adjunct faculty who do the same amount of work.

“There has got to be better parity amongst staff,” she said. “There’s something just wrong with that.”

Pate said it’s important for students to understand these issues because when they voice their support for adjuncts, it forces college and university administrations to pay attention.

“A lot of this rests on student support and activism,” she said.