While a recent Court of Appeals ruling served as a setback for the Service Employees International Union’s push for a faculty union vote at the University of Minnesota, unionized adjuncts at metro-area private colleges show a trend of significant progress in recent years.
In fact, according to SEIU’s Faculty Forward campaign, 27 percent of adjunct faculty working at Minneapolis/St. Paul metro-area private colleges now have a union – up from zero percent in 2012.
David Weiss, one of the first adjunct instructors at a Twin Cities private college to join SEIU, recalled what initially drove him to get involved in Hamline University’s unionization campaign in 2014. From 2005 to 2014, he said his rate of pay as an instructor in the religion department was stagnant at $4,000 per class. He calculated that after ten years with no raise, he was losing 20 percent of his salary to inflation.
“That was actually grocery money. That was gas money. That was utilities money. And it was 20 percent shorter,” Weiss said.
After Hamline adjuncts voted to join SEIU Local 284 and ratified a contract in Feb. 2016, college of liberal arts adjuncts like Weiss saw their salary increase to $4,600. This academic year, it is set to rise to $4,800 – officially 20 percent more than what they made per course in 2005. In addition, Weiss earns a new $200 per course longevity bonus as a faculty member who has worked at the university for several years.
After the pay increases, Weiss noted, “I do feel like I am paid something that begins to approximate a fair wage.”
Other gains Local 284 has made for eligible adjuncts at Hamline include $200 per course bonuses for adjunct instructors pursuing a terminal degree, $600 per year professional development funds and a $500 cancellation payment if their course is cancelled within 30 days of the start date.
Weiss hopes that for their next contract, adjuncts at Hamline can continue to see pay increases that rise with the cost of living. He said he would also like adjuncts to gain access to retirement benefits.
“For 15 years, my primary professional training is to teach college students. It is how I have earned the majority of my income during that 15 year period. And it’s provided me zero in retirement benefits,” Weiss noted.
Adjunct faculty movements to unionize in the Twin Cities, such as those at Hamline, St. Catherine, MCAD and Augsburg, join similar nationwide trends. Thousands of adjuncts at universities in Boston and the Bay Area have also joined SEIU. The Faculty Forward campaign reports that 48 percent of adjunct faculty in Boston and 71 percent in the Bay Area are part of a union today, compared to 20 and 21 percent respectively in 2012.
Connecting the adjunct unionizing efforts to broader movements throughout the nation, Weiss said, “The most pressing issues that we face as a nation today are issues that can only be faced with collective action…Unions model that as well as any other institution in the country – people linking arms across differences and fighting for a better world.”
Weiss’s sentiment was echoed at the fast food strike on Labor Day when Mary Pogatshnik, an adjunct faculty member at the University of Minnesota spoke in solidarity with the demonstrators.
“I’ve been organizing faculty with SEIU. We’re here to say U of M faculty stands with you, stands with all workers and the fight for 15, the fight for a union…We have to fight together, that’s the only way,” said Pogatshnik.
Workers are organizing through unions and other organizations to improve their lives.