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Adjuncts At Washington U. Could Vote On A Union This Year; Organizers Active At Webster U.

Washington University's Brookings Hall
Washington University

Adjunct instructors at Washington University could be voting by the end of this year whether to form a union now that the university and the Service Employees International Union have agreed on terms for an election to proceed.

A statement issued jointly by the university and the union said that those eligible to vote in the election include part-time, non-tenure track and non-research track faculty members who teach at least one course for credit in an undergraduate program that leads to a degree from the school of Arts and Sciences, Design and Visual Arts or Engineering and Applied Sciences.

No number of eligible voters was released. A simple majority in the election would be required for the union to be established on campus. The SEIU submitted a petition for unionization on behalf of the instructors last month.

The statement released Monday said that Washington U. “will communicate with eligible faculty in an objective and informative way about topics such as collective bargaining and the election process. However, the university will not take a specific position on how eligible faculty should vote. At the same time, the union will not seek or encourage activism on campus (picketing, for example) regarding this campaign.”

It added that “the election process will move forward under agreed upon terms that define eligibility and expectations of open and candid dialogue…. If all requirements are met, the election process could move forward by the end of the calendar year.”

At the same time that the Washington University unionization effort is proceeding, the SEIU is also working to organize adjunct instructors at Webster University. In a statement, the union said that more than 70 percent of the classes at Webster are taught by adjuncts, though a spokesman for the university said that number may not be accurate, depending on how the union is counting.

In a letter last month to adjuncts at Webster, Provost Julian Z. Schuster said some faculty members at the university have expressed “upset and concern” about being contacted by the union at their Webster email addresses. He said that the university does not favor unionization.

“University administration and academic leadership are firmly opposed to unionization of our adjunct faculty,” Schuster’s letter said.  “We see no additional benefit that a union can bring to this important constituency and frankly view unionization as a detriment to our current environment of openness, inclusion, and active participation that we now have with our adjunct faculty.”

'We see no additional benefit that a union can bring to this important constituency and frankly view unionization as a detriment.' -- Webster University Provost Julian Schuster

He added that Webster is not providing contact information for faculty members to the union.

“Please know,” Schuster’s letter said, “that Webster University has NOT provided your personal contact information or class schedules to this group and it would be against our policies to do so. At the same time, much of this information is publicly available through our websites and to limit this access would also mean limiting the same access to current and prospective students.

“Webster leadership takes these advances very seriously. We always have, and continue to treat our adjunct faculty as valuable members of our academic community. A significant number of our adjunct faculty hold full-time positions in their field of expertise, bringing real-world experience into classrooms for a broader opportunity for our students. Many others desire to teach only on a part-time basis. Our adjunct compensation schedule is competitive with our benchmark institutions and, unlike many of our peers, our adjunct faculty have a voice in our Faculty Assembly and Faculty Senate.”

As part of its push called Adjunct Action, the SEIU is working to sign up adjunct instructors at campuses across the country. It says that the goal in the drive is to provide adjuncts with several benefits they lack now, including a system of senior and reappointment rights, fair treatment in class assignments, health-care benefits, the opportunity to earn appointments of up to three years, clear grievance and due process procedures and provisions for sick leave and family leave.

On its website for the organization movement, the union urged administrators at Webster “to remain neutral and allow Webster’s adjuncts to openly engage in collective dialogue!”

At Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, faculty members who are not on a tenure track belong to a union that is affiliated with the National Education Association.

Adjunct instructors at a variety of campuses have complained of uncertainty in their class assignments, low pay and other areas where they feel they should have more security, given their education and their expertise. Some studies have shown negative effects on students’ learning when too many of their classes are taught by adjuncts, and Washington U. Provost Holden Thorp has called for universities to pay more attention to the balance between how many Ph.D. graduates they have and how many job openings those graduates will find when they enter the job market.

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.