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Non-tenure track faculty approve union by four-to-one margin

Non-tenure track faculty voted to form a union on Dec. 18, securing the right to collective bargaining with administration. Faculty leaders will work this semester to learn union members’ priorities and organize demands for contract negotiations with the administration. The organizing committee which led the charge to unionize is now the Contract Action Team.

Eligible faculty approved the union with a 120-to-28 vote, a four-to-one margin. Professor Nina Kammerer (HS/ANTH), a part-time contract faculty member at the Heller School, said she was confident union supporters would win but was pleasantly surprised by the “strong margin.” Kammerer has been involved with the organizing committee since last spring.

The vote was administered by the National Labor Relations Board. Faculty sent their votes via mail and on Dec. 18, the NLRB completed the tally. More than 80 percent of the eligible faculty members participated in the vote, according to a press release.

The union is a chapter of the Service Employees International Union Local 509. SEIU is a national organization that has also worked with non-tenure track, or contingent, faculty at other schools in the Boston area, including Northeastern and Tufts. The Brandeis union now represents about 300 adjunct and part-time contract faculty, according to SEIU spokesman Jason Stephany.

To learn what issues are important for contingent faculty at Brandeis, the organizers are using a series of surveys. Faculty filled out a preliminary survey on priorities with a list of items such as longevity raises and improved benefits. A more detailed survey will go out this month, according to the Brandeis Faculty Forward website. Responses from the first survey, as well as surveys given at other schools, will guide the new one, said Kammerer.

There will also be planning sessions to discuss goals, according to the Faculty Forward website. It will also be important to have meetings between groups of faculty, both one-on-one conversations and meetings between groups such as faculty in specific departments, said Kammerer.
“We really need everyone—whether they voted yes, whether they voted no, whether they abstained—to talk about what their concerns are, what their priorities are and to creatively think together about how to best address them in collective bargaining,” said Kammerer in a phone interview with The Brandeis Hoot.

Kammerer is motivated as both a Brandeis professor who believes the union relates to the university’s social justice mission and as a longtime academic who sees unionizing as a response to the nationwide increase in the number of non-tenure track faculty.

To her knowledge, she was never taught by an adjunct faculty member as a student, because “that was not the normal,” she said although now nationwide, over 70 percent of faculty are contingent faculty, according to the American Association of University Professors.

Professor Christopher Abrams (FA) agrees getting faculty together is important now to “get an accurate picture” of everyone’s unique situations and priorities, he said in a phone interview with The Brandeis Hoot.

Abrams became involved with the unionization efforts in Fall 2014. Both he and Kammerer have helped with communications and with reaching out to professors to talk about the union. Abrams said those involved are passionate about the movement and have come to care for one another. The union is a way of bettering the lives of contingent faculty and improving the quality of the university, according to Abrams.

As a union, the faculty also have the right to request information from the administration. They are requesting specific items such as information on salaries for professors of different titles.

Abrams explained they have done their best to gather data on their own, but having information from the administration will be necessary as they move towards collective bargaining.

Issues which have been prevalent in the unionization movement both at Brandeis and nationally include greater pay, job security, benefit and compensation for classes cancelled soon before a semester begins among other points.

Adjunct faculty can earn less than $6,000 dollars per class, according to Brandeis Faculty Forward. Some non tenure-track faculty have year-to-year contracts and are uncertain whether they still have a job from year to year.

Brandeis was the ninth union victory in the Boston area, joining over 3,000 others working with the SEIU in the area, according to a press release.

In 2013, Tufts became the first school to unionize with the SEIU. In October 2014, the union secured a three-year contract guaranteeing pay increases for most contingent faculty and first notice of full-time openings and the chance to interview, according to the agreement.

Just yesterday, contingent faculty at Northeastern reached a “tentative contract settlement,” with a strike arranged to begin on Jan. 19 if an agreement was not reached, according to a press release from Stephany. Points in the contract include pay raises, compensation for classes cancelled shortly before the beginning of a semester and increased participation in university decisions, the press release said.

Adjunct faculty at Boston University voted to unionize in Feb. 2015, nine months ago, but in November the union filed charges through the NLRB stating the administration delayed bargaining sessions for around seven months and withheld information the union requested, according to the document filed by the union, obtained by The Daily Free Press.

Of future negotiations at Brandeis, Interim Provost Irv Epstein said, “We look forward to working with the SEIU to reach a collective bargaining agreement for these employees,” in an email to the Brandeis community following the vote.

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