September 30, 2016

Adjuncts officially file to hold union vote

Paul Moriarty, a Webster University adjunct professor, believes a union will not only benefit adjunct faculty at Webster, but the students as well.

“If you’re having a lot of your classes taught by adjuncts, I think the quality of your education depends on how well those adjuncts are treated and how well they’re integrated into the campus life at the university,” Moriarty said.

Better treatment and integration for adjuncts are some things Moriarty believes forming a union can accomplish.

On March 28, the Webster University Adjunct Organizing Committee filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB is an independent federal agency that protects employees’ rights to organize.

In order to file a vote with the NLRB, Webster adjuncts are required to show 30 percent of current adjuncts support having a union election. Webster adjuncts in support of an election signed a union authorization card, individual forms in which a worker states he or she wishes to be represented by the union.

Adjunct Professor Terri Reilly, who spoke to The Journal as a member of the Webster University Adjunct Organizing Committee, said the Webster adjuncts received “overwhelming support.”

“We are working along our same goal of making the university a better place for adjuncts to teach. We fairly believe that (a union) is going to improve overall the educational experience of those students,” Reilly said.

Webster University Provost Julian Schuster sent a message to Webster adjuncts on March 30.

“In the days ahead, the university will work with the NLRB to ensure all of the adjunct faculty affected will have an opportunity to vote, and that they are fully informed regarding the details of any future election and the facts surrounding unionization before the vote. At this time it is not known who might ultimately be eligible to vote or when such a vote might occur,” Schuster wrote.

On April 6, the university sent a message addressed to adjuncts through the Adjunct Faculty Information page on the university’s website. In the message, the university laid out an example of what union dues an adjunct might pay if a vote passed to unionize with Adjunct Action, a higher education arm of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The SEIU represents service employee groups in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. SEIU has three local union groups in Missouri.

According to Webster’s calculations, a university adjunct would be paying $1,188 for a three-year membership with SEIU, under the SEIU constitution.

But Moriarty and Reilly said that would not be the case for Webster adjuncts. Reilly said the Webster adjuncts would file with Adjunct Action and adjuncts would not be required to pay the dues laid out in the SEI constitution.

According to Adjunct Action’s website, the group is a project of SEIU, but dues are not set the same way. The site says dues are decided after the first union contract is signed. Reilly said that Webster adjuncts would only be required to pay dues of 2.5 percent of their earnings from teaching classes. If an adjunct does not teach a class for that academic year, he or she is not required to pay any dues.

“I’m not worried about spending my money on a union because it’s a small portion of my salary,” Moriarty said.

Washington University (WashU) adjuncts have also filed with the NLRB and are holding their own vote to join SEIU. Erik Strobl, a WashU adjunct, said there is value in having a union.

“I have never seen a union whose members have seen their pay go down. I have never seen a union where it wasn’t worth it to be in a union because dues are so high,” Strobl said.

Strobl said Webster adjuncts should not be scared off by the figures Webster had in their message to adjuncts.

Before Moriarty became an adjunct professor at Webster, he was a full-time professor at Lawnwood University in Virginia, where he had benefits and healthcare. When his wife was hired to be a full-time professor at Saint Louis University, the two of them moved to St. Louis.

That was almost 10 years ago. Now Moriarty is an adjunct professor at Webster and Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville (SIUE). He currently teaches three classes at Webster and one class at SIUE, and he has no benefits or health care.

Moriarty used to teach four classes per semester and two classes in the summer for Webster to make ends meet.

“Which is barely enough to get by on. If I don’t wind up getting ten classes, then it’s not enough,” Moriarty said.

While pay is a concern, Moriarty said a union would help address other important concerns to adjuncts, like job security. Moriarty said a union could work to gain contracts for adjuncts; he said this would help him plan his courses and finances better and allow him to stay on campus more.

This semester, Moriarty said he is on Webster’s campus twice a week.

“I think all of that is part of the students’ education. I think if the adjunct faculty are stretched too thin, then they’re not going to provide the students with what we want to provide them with,” Moriarty said. 

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  • Ron Hagen

    How many adjuncts had increased issues with pay or class registration after the vote failed? Retribution?