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In Negotiation: Adjunct Faculty Fight for Fair Wages and Job Security

News & Features | April 24, 2017

 

 

By Carissa Fleury and Eve Feldberg

 

On Friday, April 14, 2017, part-time lecturers entered their third round of contract negotiations with the Tufts administration. Part-time lecturers (also referred to as “adjuncts” or “adjunct faculty”) are represented in the negotiations by their union, SEIU 509; the administration is being represented by Bárbara Brizuela, the Dean of Academic Affairs for Arts & Sciences. Speaking to her role in the negotiations, Dean Brizuela said, “I represent the administration and I work along with our University legal counsel, outside counsel, and the A&S Faculty Affairs Office.”

 

The goal of the negotiations, which are currently ongoing, is to agree upon a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for part-time lecturers. The first of these agreements was reached in 2014, after a push by adjuncts to unionize—prior to the 2014 CBA, part-time lecturers were not represented by a union.

 

Senior Lior Appel-Kraut, a member of Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC), was involved with supporting adjunct faculty in their effort to unionize in 2013. She explained that the faculty organizing at Tufts was part of a larger movement to unionize adjuncts at various Boston-area universities. However, the effort to unionize at Tufts did not come without pushback. “They [adjuncts] did it with…a lot of administration pushback and the administration sending emails saying ‘don’t do this,’ all those kinds of union busting tactics,” Appel-Kraut said.

 

Despite this, part-time lecturers in Arts & Sciences voted to unionize in 2013. Professor Rebecca Gibson, a lecturer in the English Department, was involved in the unionization process. She explained that the winning vote to unionize was only the first step in the long negotiation process. “After an enthusiastic vote, we won the right to unionize—and proceeded to several months of negotiating our first contract. The most important element of being part of a union was that we were each no longer operating at a disadvantage, as individuals dealing with an all-powerful organization: the university. Now we came to the bargaining table as equal partners with an equal voice in setting the terms of the contract,” she said.

Ultimately, part-time faculty at Tufts negotiated a CBA with the administration toward the end of the school year in 2014. Appel-Kraut characterized the contract as “good,” and said it represented “Tufts being a leader in the Boston area” in terms of improving working conditions for adjuncts. She went on, “I think Northeastern was right after, and they got a good contract, which definitely was connected to what happened at Tufts, and that was just a huge win and also led the way to full time lecturers to unionize the next year.”

While the 2014 CBA was an improvement in some regards, part-time faculty are looking for further improvements. Elizabeth Lemons, a part-time lecturer in the Department of Religion, said, “While we made important progress with our first contract, our compensation per course is not equivalent to the compensation for teaching that full-time faculty members receive. In our view, we are all members of one faculty, and we all deserve to be compensated equally. Moreover, we feel strongly that course guarantees are a crucial means of job security and stability for part-time faculty members, and we’d like to see them extended to faculty much sooner than eight years into their career at Tufts.”

 

The disparity in compensation remains relevant going into contract negotiations this year. “Until people are paid evenly across all types of faculty then there’s still going to be work to do and a reason to fight for a better contract,” Appel-Kraut said.

 

Part-Time Faculty Propose Substantive Asks

 

Job insecurity is another concern in addition to wage disparities. “About five years ago, I suffered an unexpected loss of income when one of my courses unexpectedly was officially cancelled due to insufficient enrollment. Given that there were three students, two of whom were Religion majors, I taught the course as an independent study course for a fraction of the pay; that was a difficult spring. In prior years, some of my work as an advisor or reader of honors theses, for example was not compensated,” Lemons said. These unexpected changes in income can vastly affect professors’ ability to provide for themselves and families, and create an atmosphere of unrest and uncertainty among adjuncts.

TLC member and sophomore Zoe Schoen has been working closely with the adjunct faculty involved in the newest round of contract negotiations. Schoen emphasized that adjunct faculty are focused on establishing more transparent communication between part-time faculty and the administration, stating, “One of the substantive asks…is getting recourse for the newer professors and faculty who are here for less than four years…[which] means that if [the administration] is not going to renew a newer professors’ contract, they need to have reasons and something to back it up.”

Along with getting recourse for newer professors, another ask is course guarantees for professors who have been teaching for more than four years. Course guarantees, Schoen said, are focused on stabilizing the number of courses professors are allotted to teach in a given year. “Adjunct faculty teach between one and five courses per year between both semesters…[right now] an adjunct professor who is on a two-year contract might go from one semester to the next and not know if they’ll get the same number of courses that they had been guaranteed, which means a huge gap in the income they’re getting that semester, and [possibly] having to scramble for work elsewhere.”

Professor Andy Klatt, a part-time Spanish lecturer at Tufts, added that these asks aren’t just about pay, but also about establishing a baseline of respect for the time and energy that professors expend in their work. “We are concerned that to the administration we are second-class employees, seemingly unworthy of the respect that others receive. Job security and job stability are particularly important to us since we are contingent employees—and not highly paid ones at that—living and working in a social and economic environment where university instruction has been increasingly devalued,” he said.

Initial Negotiations Spark Concerns

 

Both Schoen and Appel-Kraut expressed concerns about how the initial stages of negotiations have been going. Schoen explained that she is most wary about “how the administration is coming to the table and their attitude,” adding, “Something we’ve heard recently is that negotiations are supposed to be a two-way street and a conversation, and what has been happening in this round is that the admin has been really dismissive and not interested in engaging with any of the asks…it’s not a good sign.” Appel-Kraut said, “I think the worry is that the university has sort of changed who’s negotiating, and negotiation tactics, and they hired an out of house legal representation who specializes in this sort of thing, as opposed to the Tufts counsel. It’s a little worrisome that they would be taking all these steps to try and distance themselves and put up all these protections when it feels like if there really is all this cordial relationship, which has been celebrated, then it doesn’t feel to me like there’s a lot of reason to put up all these barriers of protection.” On the point of outside legal counsel, Dean Brizuela clarified, “Outside counsel was involved [in the 2013-14 negotiations] and we are working with the same person we did in 2013.”

 

Like Schoen and Appel-Kraut, Professor Klatt also spoke about the administration’s attitude and tactics. He explained, “We don’t feel that the administration has shown an interest in negotiating our differences. Why do I say that? Because they have rejected some of our proposals on those issues [job security and stability] out of hand, without showing any willingness to explore how we can work together to reach solutions beneficial to all, and have even responded to some proposals for extending job protections by saying ‘No, we need that flexibility.’”

 

Klatt identified this reference to “flexibility” as Tufts’ ability to let part-time lecturers go without what he referred to as “a fair hearing.” He went on, “It is central to keep in mind that the employer’s “flexibility” is the contingent worker’s very real vulnerability. We do understand, and I think we have shown that we understand, the university’s need for flexibility, but we also insist on standing up for our job rights and due process when our livelihoods are at stake.”

 

Lemons said the administration’s rejection of adjuncts’ proposals left her “feeling frustrated.” She added, “After listening to their reasons, we are considering how to modify our proposals to acknowledge their concerns. We hope that the administration will likewise listen to our concerns and engage with us in seeking mutually-agreeable conclusions.”

 

Appel-Kraut explained that the expectation going into negotiations was that the administration would likely propose a contract similar to or the same as the 2014 agreement, so that the work of the adjuncts and the union would be to push for improvements beyond that agreement. However, both Appel-Kraut and Schoen say the administration seems to be making offers that are worse than those in the 2014 contract. When asked about this, Dean Brizuela replied, “From my perspective this is inaccurate. We are not pulling back on any terms in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.”

 

Klatt also expressed dismay at this aspect of the negotiations thus far. “We have already seen the administration propose some negative changes that would weaken our protections against contract violations, and so far they have been unwilling even to consider our proposals for strengthening job security,” he said. When asked whether the administration would not consider proposals for strengthening job security, Dean Brizuela said, “My understanding is that Tufts is already at the forefront in terms of job protections for part-time faculty and that no other local university provides broader job security than Tufts already does.” She also said that, in her view, the administration’s proposals would not weaken protections against contract violations.

 

Students Give Support

These negotiations affect students as well as faculty. Schoen stressed the importance of student support for adjunct faculty. “As students…we have mentors we build relationships with, and if people are constantly leaving that’s really detrimental to the relationships we build with our teachers and how much they can give to us in our education,” she said.

Because of the administration’s shifting tone in the negotiations, the adjuncts’ tactics may have to shift accordingly. Speaking to the tone of the 2014 negotiations, Gibson said, “From the beginning we determined to find points of confluence between the needs and goals of the administrations and our needs and goals.  That is, we did not enter into our conversation adversarially, but with an eye to common interests and how to achieve them.”

 

In this year’s negotiations, Appel-Kraut explained that for now, adjuncts are taking a “high road” approach to negotiations (similar to the one described by Gibson), emphasizing the improvements made by the 2014 contract and expressing hope that Tufts could continue to be a leader in improving adjunct working conditions. She added that students are following this lead for now, though they’re ready to ramp up as needed.

 

Students in TLC have been spearheading a campaign in support of part-time faculty.

“What we’ve done for this campaign is have a petition that indicates student support for the campaign and outlines that we care about our faculty and want them to be safe and secure in their jobs so they can be present and be here for us in our own educations. It’s kind of a symbolic gesture and that’s still going around. And a big part of this is just talking to professors and educating ourselves—we don’t know exactly what will happen but new things and new opportunities will pop up, so keep your eyes open.”

 

Gibson shared that student support was crucial in the 2013-14 negotiations. “The support expressed not only by many of the tenured faculty, but also, and particularly, by the students was important not only in demonstrating to the administration that we were valued, but that people were watching expecting Tufts to live up to the ideals of social justice that it aspires to,” she said.

 

This is a busy time for labor organizing at Tufts—on April 14, the same day as the third round of negotiations, Tufts janitors employed by C&W Services held a speak out on Tisch patio, detailing deteriorating working conditions and mistreatment by supervisors. A petition, a letter calling for one supervisor to be fired, one janitor’s personal testimony, and a list of demands have been shared on the TLC Facebook page and widely circulated. The demands include a mandated 15-minute break for part-time workers, a clear explanation for any changes to janitors’ workloads or schedules, and a three-month trial period for newly hired supervisors.

 

With janitors as well as part-time faculty, there seems to be plenty of opportunity for student engagement—at the speak out on April 14, current and prospective students walking by stopped to listen to janitors’ testimony; one student asked what they could do to get involved and was urged to sign the petition in support.

 

Speaking to student involvement, Schoen said, “Don’t underestimate the power of students and student voices in supporting these campaigns…we can’t be complacent. Even when there are wins, there are still so many things that still need to get done. These are people’s lives and people’s families. The stakes are really high.”