Saturday, December 11, 2010

Call for a national union of adjuncts

In a recent opinion piece in Inside Higher Ed, Keith Hoeller calls for the formation of a national adjunct union. He argues that existing faculty unions usually prioritize the concerns of tenured faculty over that of adjuncts and that the ultimate goal of a national union of adjuncts should be to abolish the two-track system and to complete equality for adjuncts. Existing organizations are dominated by tenure stream faculty. He asks:

Imagine if the civil rights movement had been led by white people, or the women's movement had been led by men, or the gay movement had been led by heterosexuals. Of course any social movement for the oppressed needs allies, but where would these movements be today if their primary leaders had not come from the oppressed class?

He adds:

There can be no solidarity in any union that adopts and supports a two-tiered system. Virtually all faculty unions in the U.S. have bargained — and continue to bargain — entirely separate and completely unequal contracts for their tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty. For decades the teachers unions have been following the practices of the Sheriff of Nottingham instead of Robin Hood...the three faculty unions have numerous chapters where adjunct faculty are in the same unions with the tenured faculty who serve as their direct supervisors. Everyone knows that people are loath to bite the hand that feeds them, even more so when that hand is protected by tenure. In their 100 years of existence, the NEA, AFT, and AAUP have failed to negotiate meaningful job security for nearly all of their adjuncts. Their monomaniacal devotion to tenure as an all-or-nothing idea has caused them to fail to seriously develop other forms of job security for adjuncts. Even now, in the midst of the Great Recession, with the wholesale massacre of thousands of adjunct faculty, the three unions are focused on protecting and increasing the number of tenured faculty.

It should be obvious why all three national faculty unions want adjuncts in the same unions, and why they fear an independent adjunct union. As long as adjuncts are in the same unions as the full-timers, they will be powerless and easy to control. The unions will not have to compete with them at the bargaining table. And union leaders know all too well that the adjuncts — who have no job security and are completely dependent on the full-time faculty — will not be willing or able to organize enough brave souls to take over the unions. The adjuncts will continue to beg the full-timers to represent them and to push their agenda for them.

Harsh words, but there's more than a grain of truth to them. Another advantage to forming an all adjunct union is that it could conceivably organize adjuncts across multiple campuses and collectively force colleges and universities in a geographic territory to offer better pay, benefits, and working conditions. Given that adjuncts often hold jobs at multiple institutions, organizing on just one campus doesn't do them much good. I value tenure and think that it's worth defending, but the new faculty majority is adjuncts, not tenured faculty. Universities and colleges across the nation will use the latest budget crunch to replace more tenured faculty with adjuncts. We need a solidaristic organizing model to confront this challenge, one that is based on the empowerment of all faculty, not a siege model that defends the benefits of the ever shrinking tenured faculty but leaves the adjuncts to work like slaves in order to maintain the benefits that tenured faculty enjoy. What would such a model look like?

1 comment:

  1. Willingness to work with adjunct faculty on a more even footing would be a start. Less disparity in rights and power is a prerequisite to working together to take back the university, restore governance. I don't know what the new model will look like other than that it will be different. The real question is whose model: business/corporate or evolved academic