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SLU adjuncts vote to unionize

An archway entrance to Saint Louis University
chuteme | Flickr | Creative Commons

Part-time instructors at Saint Louis University have joined their colleagues at three other local campuses and voted to join the Service Employees International Union.

In results of mail-in balloting announced Monday, the unionization proposal won by a vote of 76 percent, 89-28.

“This resounding victory is simply further proof of what the majority of us adjuncts already accept as fact: Our future depends on our voices being heard and the formation of this union will bring positive change to our work conditions at SLU,” said Jameson Ramirez, an instructor in sociology and anthropology, in a statement.

Added Ina Seethaler, an instructor in women’s and gender studies:

“I am thrilled about our successful vote to form an adjunct union. Now, we can work toward making changes that will benefit instructors and students.”

In recent years, unionization of adjuncts has increased as the part-time instructors seek more control over their working conditions, more stability in their schedules and higher compensation.

Other local campuses that have joined the SEIU include Washington University, St. Louis Community College and St. Charles Community College. A unionization effort by adjuncts at Webster University, where the administration opposed the move, failed last May.

At Washington U., adjuncts approved their first contract last month. Agreement on the pact was reached one day before a scheduled walkout by adjuncts. In the four-year contract, the instructors go increased pay, new procedures for reappointment to teaching posts, professional development funds and office space.

Among other Jesuit universities, adjuncts at Loyola of Chicago approved joining the SEIU in balloting in January. Overall, the SEIU says nearly 13,000 faculty members at dozens of schools have voted to join the union in the past three years.

In a letter sent to faculty, staff and students after the vote totals were announced Monday afternoon, SLU President Fred Pestello said:

Now that the ballots have been opened and counted, I anticipate that the NLRB will certify the election results shortly after Memorial Day. After this occurs, SEIU-Local 1 and the University will begin the bargaining process. The length of that process will depend on a number of factors, but I can assure you that we will approach negotiations with SEIU-Local 1 in good faith.”

For further comment, he referred people to a website the university has maintained on the subject of faculty unionization.

There, Pestello had posted this in advance of the vote:

“The University respects the right of adjunct and non-tenure-track faculty to decide whether they want to unionize and to be represented by SEIU. The University would encourage adjunct and non-tenure-track faculty to become informed about what this could mean for them and to have conversations about whether unionization is the right choice at this time. 

“Adjunct and non-tenure-track faculty play an important role in the educational experience of students at SLU. The University believes that the best way to address the concerns of adjunct and non-tenure-track faculty — while serving the best interests of students — is by continuing to work directly and cooperatively together. 

“Before making any decisions, the University encourages all eligible voters to explore the information and resources available on this website to learn more about the unionization process, campaigns at other area universities and the progress that SLU has made in addressing issues of concern.” 

He also posted a video in which he proclaimed there was “a new day at SLU,” recounted recent initiatives that he said have improved career opportunities and rewards for adjuncts and stressed that he hoped the university would be able to continue working directly with part-time instructors.

Follow Dale on Twitter: @dalesinger

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.