September 30, 2016

Discrepancies between adjunct union and admin website

Corrections: Attribution has been corrected for Patrick Giblin under the section “Escorted off campus.” Giblin said the public safety officer reported to him that Walker refused to show ID or identify who he was. Walker reported that he did identify that he was an alumnus and a part of Adjunct Action.

Section about union initiation fee has been clarified by SEIU VP Nancy Cross. For residential and commercial professions under SEIU Local 1 there is an initiation fee but for adjuncts there is not.

 

Webster University administration launched a website to provide information to adjuncts earlier this month. The site provides updates about the proposed unionization, a rundown of faculty rights and a forum for questions about unionization in general.

Patrick Giblin, director of public relations, said the site was created by the administration to provide information for adjuncts. He said the university previously maintained an adjunct information site, but the new one, located at WebsterAdjunctInfo.org, is more user-friendly.

Union organizers from Service Employees International Union (SEIU) also have a union-informational website located at AdjunctAction.org. SEIU Vice President Nancy Cross said there are some discrepancies between the two sites.

The administration’s site says “all future faculty will be required to pay initiation fees when hired by the university.” But Cross said this is not true for adjunct faculty under SEIU Local 1, which includes Webster University adjuncts.

“In the residential and commercial (professions), there is an initiation fee but there isn’t one for the adjuncts,” Cross said. “And we’re not going to put one in.”

Another difference Cross pointed out was a post on the administration site that talks about the rights of SEIU’s international president. The administration’s site posts a clause found in SEIU’s constitution under “authority for collective bargaining” and translates it as meaning, “the International President can negotiate a St. Louis or Midwest Collective Bargaining Agreement without a vote of the membership.”

Cross said there is a process that includes a lot of voting and discussion from members of the union and board members before any decisions are made by the international president.

“(The international president is) very inclusive in trying to make decisions,” Cross said. “The decisions that happen at Webster will be decisions predominantly made by Webster adjuncts. (The international president) doesn’t have the authority – to the best of my knowledge – to make a decision unilaterally.”

Giblin said the administration is only stating what is found in SIEU’s Constitution.

“We stand by the accuracy of the information on the website,” Giblin said.

Webster alumni and current SEIU Organizer Jacob Walker refers to the administration’s site as Webster’s anti-union page.

On the website’s “What We Believe” tab it states, “After careful consideration and consultations with many, we firmly believe that unionization is not in the best interest of our university or our faculty.”

“It’s a subtle attempt at intimidating and kind of pushing those on the fence that haven’t researched it a lot or don’t know what it’s about into being too afraid to act,” Walker said. “It’s a scare tactic basically.”

 

Escorted off his alma mater

Walker has been working full time for SEIU since April 2014, a month before receiving his undergraduate degree from Webster University. Since then he has been on campus to talk with adjunct professors about the union and its benefits. On March 24, Walker and another union organizer were escorted off campus after Public Safety received a call from a professor in the Community Music School (CMS).

Giblin said the Public Safety officer received a call from a concerned professor.

“The professor told the officer there were two men who didn’t look like they belonged there (outside the CMS), and she feared for her safety,” Giblin said.

Walker said he and the other organizer were sitting on a bench outside the CMS waiting for the class to end so they could speak with the professor about the union. He said they had no intention to scare her.

“Harassing and threatening people is not what we do,” Walker said. “We are simply trying to get in contact with everyone because it is a decision that will impact all adjuncts.”

Giblin said the Public Safety officer asked Walker to show his ID but that Walker refused to show ID or identify who he was.. Walker said he explained to the officer that he was an alumni and a member of Adjunct Action but that he did not feel he needed to show ID.The officer then proceeded to escort Walker and the other organizer off campus. Giblin said this is a part of university policy, which requires doing so when someone refuses to show identification.

Walker was escorted from the CMS right across the same crosswalk he helped create during his final year at Webster. He started the Student Community Engagement Committee, which coordinated with SGA to implement a cross walk on Garden Avenue from the East Academic Building to the parking garage.

“They said I could either show ID and everything would be fine or if I kept refusing to show ID that they could call the police on me and have me arrested for trespassing,” Walker said.

He said though the officer was polite he was surprised to see how Webster would treat an alumni.

 

Webster’s Priorities

Walker has not let the incident keep him from recruiting adjunct faculty to vote for the union. He said it makes sense for Webster’s adjuncts to unionize to try to better their situation.

“The administration is not on board with that because they’re afraid of adjuncts having a choice, and they are trying to skew that choice,” Walker said. “When 80 percent of your workforce is living in under-poverty wages, you’re in a horrible position.”

Webster adjunct Drew Stevens said adjuncts have no voice in how Webster distributes the budget. He said they sign up for the job knowing that it is a part time job with no benefits and a “very earnest stipend.”

“I call this whole thing victimology,” Stevens said. “Each of these individuals who are pro-union knew what they were signing up for and if they don’t like it they can leave at any point in time. It’s  a contract. If they don’t like it, rip it up.”

Stevens is an adjunct teacher for several other universities in St. Louis and other locations in the U.S. as well as an author and full time turnaround specialist for small businesses. He said only the full time faculty and administration should have a “seat at the table.”

The administration sent out an email to Webster adjunct faculty on April 28 stating that adjuncts can make their voices heard through membership on the Faculty Assembly and Faculty Senate. Seven adjuncts currently serve on the Faculty Assembly — half of the 10 percent allocated to adjuncts of the total Faculty Assembly.

Terri Reilly is the first adjunct at large to serve in the Faculty Senate. The administration’s email states that members of the Faculty Senate can propose changes to conditions of employment, but Reilly said there have been no changes since she has been employed by Webster.

“There’ve been raises before, but in terms of any sort of changes to the overall working conditions of adjuncts, there’s been no coordinated effort,” Reilly said.

Reilly said as an adjunct she has greatly benefited from the Faculty Development Center, which serves as office space for adjunct faculty, but other than that adjunct issues are “rarely seen as a priority” to the administration.

“The university has got to get its economic priorities in order,” Reilly said. “We really need to get back to what’s going on in the classroom.”

 

The Voting begins

The ballots to vote for unionization at Webster went out on April 24. All adjuncts are allowed  but not required to vote.

Steve Findley has been an adjunct at Webster for 12 years. He is in favor of the union and said he is going to make sure adjuncts are voting.

“(The union) will force Webster to refocus its priorities on the education of students and the instruction of students,” Findley said. “I think with building new campuses and doing all these other things that we’ve done recently, we’ve kind of lost focus of that.”

Stevens said Webster is in a competitive market and talk of an adjunct union is affecting the institution.

“Webster has lost a little bit of footing in the competitive race and is doing what they need to do to catch up,” Stevens said. “They don’t need to be side tracked.”

Walker is worried about the future effects of graduating from Webster University.He said he loves the community that is formed at Webster but is afraid Webster is heading in a for-profit direction that could negatively affect his future.

“When you graduate and go out into the world, you are going to have Webster University on your resume for potential job applications, for potential professional groups and things like that,” Walker said. “I don’t want that to be something that I have to apologize for.”

 

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  • Chris Boehm

    I would be fascinated to hear exactly where Mr. Stevens believes that pro-union adjuncts are supposed to go to teach. With close to 70% of the teaching labor being on adjunct on campuses nationwide, there are very, very few full-time positions available in academia. So, you have a large pool of labor who have been trained very specifically as graduate students for jobs that no longer exist. This problem is not a “supply side” problem. Full-time positions have systematically been eliminated starting in the late 1960s when full-time, tenure track positions made up 75% of the teaching labor on campuses because administrators saw that it was a cheaper labor model. Administrators have doubly exploited their graduate students, first admitting them to train them for work that no longer exists (while using them for cheap teaching labor while on campus), then again when they graduate because administration knows that these new Phd’s can’t get jobs — not because they are not good at their job, but because administrators have eliminated the jobs that would have hitherto been available. It may be simple (and convenient) for someone who is a traditional adjunct to look at the situation and say what Mr. Stevens has in this article. However, it demonstrates particularly reductive view of the problem, which exculpates administration for their decades of bad behavior. Where, Mr. Stevens, do you propose these people who possess a highly specialized knowledge and skill set go? It is time for this systematic exploitation to change.