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Brandeis Faculty Forward continues collective bargaining

Brandeis Faculty Forward, Brandeis’ non-tenure track faculty organizing committee that is part of a nationwide campaign, has made advances in bargaining with the administration since their formation in December 2015 and their opening presentation to administration in late May.

Brandeis Faculty Forward, which is part of SEIU 509 (the Service Employees International Union, Local 509), includes both adjunct faculty and part-time faculty at Brandeis. Adjunct faculty are hired on a course-by-course basis, while part-time faculty are hired on one-year or multi-year contracts on a less-than-full-time basis, according to Nina Kammerer, a senior lecturer in the Ph.D. program at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

Both groups have united because they feel they receive fewer benefits than their full-time colleagues and therefore feel they are unable to provide optimal learning conditions for students, according to the bargaining goals listed on Brandeis Faculty Forward’s website.

Kammerer elaborated on what they hope to accomplish. “Our principles include commitment to Brandeis’s mission of academic excellence and social justice, and our goals include equitable compensation, increased job security, increased benefits, support for professional development, greater inclusion and greater transparency,” Kammerer said in an email to The Brandeis Hoot.

Since Brandeis Faculty Forward’s opening presentation last May, in which the newly formed union presented their principles and goals to the administration, many bargaining sessions have been held. “We have had many bargaining sessions since then, both during the summer and this semester. Negotiations are ongoing,” Kammerer said.

At these bargaining sessions, there is much representation from administration, including Provost Lisa Lynch, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Susan Birren and representatives from Heller and the International Business School (IBS), among others, according to Kammerer. “I can say that I greatly appreciate the amplitude of the administration’s presence at the bargaining table. To me it signals a commitment on the administration’s part to ensure that the bargaining includes the perspectives of all our constituent schools,” she said.   

The most recent bargaining session was on Tuesday, March 21, in which the challenging topic of compensation was discussed. One of Brandeis Faculty Forward’s goals is to attain compensation that is equal to that of their full-time colleagues. However, “in the area of compensation, things are moving more slowly. We are encountering predictable resistance to raising salaries and providing guaranteed yearly cost-of-living increases,” said Amy Todd ’04, an adjunct faculty member in Graduate Professional Studies (GPS) at the Rabb School.

Todd is an online faculty member, meaning she and other online GPS faculty are not physically present on campus. This leaves them particularly vulnerable to exploitation, she said. For example, included in the compensation negotiations, the administration proposed a separate and lower pay scale for online faculty, giving the reasoning that online faculty do not put in as many hours as on-campus faculty do, Todd said. “We teach online not to cut corners but to provide our students greater flexibility through ‘asynchronous’ (round-the-clock) delivery of course content. Their proposal abandons this principle and compromises the ability of GPS to recruit and retain high-quality faculty,” she said.

Brandeis Faculty Forward is the first SEIU union in the Boston area to include online faculty in negotiations. “We hope what we are doing here will provide a model for organizing online faculty on other campuses in the future,” Todd said in an email to The Hoot.

Most negotiations have been productive and successful, according to Kammerer. “I know I am pleased with advances made, including tentative agreement on the establishment of an annual $25,000 professional development fund, a system of performance evaluation, a pathway for adjuncts to multi-year appointments, increased access to benefits and lump sum payments in the event of course cancellation,” she said in an email to The Hoot.

Although these agreements are tentative until the whole contract has been agreed upon by both sides, Kammerer is optimistic. “The contract will be voted upon and, I am confident, ratified by faculty within the Brandeis Faculty Forward union unit,” she said. “We are only asking Brandeis to enact its stated social justice values, values we share.”

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