December 16, 2017

Pro-union adjuncts say hired consulting firm was anti-union

Webster University adjunct professor Elizabeth Sausele said she was unhappy when she read the university paid $17,000 to a consulting company during last year’s adjunct unionization effort.

Sausele works four days a week at Trader Joe’s to support herself, while also working two days at Webster. She said she keeps working as an adjunct because she loves to teach, although she said at times stocking shelves is more lucrative than teaching at Webster.

Sausele said she wished Webster had offered to talk personally with adjuncts before turning to a consulting company and wondered where the money could have gone if it had stayed at Webster.

“I think we could have come to a reasonable conclusion without spending $17,000,” Sausele said. “If the university administration wanted to invest a significant chunk of money, I wish they would have sat down and talked to us first instead of hiring a firm.”

In 2015, Webster’s adjuncts voted against unionization. Before the vote, Webster hired Greer Consulting, Inc., a public relations firm that works in labor relations and diversity training. Webster paid the firm $17,000 to mediate meetings between adjunct faculty and university administration.

In these meetings, the consulting firm’s founder, Jason Greer, would facilitate discussions with adjunct faculty about the pros and cons of the unionizing, according to a contract between Greer’s company and Webster.

“Mr. Greer’s role and activities in assisting the University as a former NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) agent were open, transparent and similar to the role of the professional union organizers used by the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) 18 months ago,” a Webster statement read.  “The union never raised any objection to his presence on campus during that time nor filed any official objections to anything he said, and attendance to the sessions hosted by Mr. Greer was purely voluntary on the part of the adjunct faculty.”

“A Disingenuous Statement”

Adjunct professors David Hilditch and Terri Reilly both say Greer’s participation was neither transparent nor unbiased. Reilly, who was the first adjunct member of Webster’s Faculty Senate, said she attended all of the meetings between adjuncts and the university during the unionization movement. Hilditch and Reilly both said the university’s statement on Greer was disingenuous.

“The way that Jason Greer was presented by the administration was not transparent his background, what his responsibility was. But what we found out through the grapevine was that he was there as basically a union buster,” Reilly said. “I attended all the meetings and it was clear even though they said they wanted to listen, it was very scripted.”

Reilly said while the meetings were voluntary, they were adjunct faculty’s first chance to speak with administration about their concerns and to hear what the university had to say.

Adjunct Professor Terri Reilly helps a student in one of her classes. She was elected as Faculty Senate’s first adjunct member in 2014.

Adjunct Professor Terri Reilly helps a student in one of her classes. She was elected as Faculty Senate’s first adjunct member in 2014.

“Of course we were not required to attend these meetings. However, it was the first time the administration had shown any interest in holding meetings with adjuncts whether to impart information or receive information,” Reilly said. “It was really in our best interest to hear what they [Provost Julian Schuster and President Stroble] had to say since it had never been done before.”  

Reilly said Greer was originally presented as a mediator for the meetings between the adjuncts and the university administration. She said it was only made clear why Greer was at Webster when adjuncts did their own research. She said Greer’s past work at other institutions made it clear why he was brought to Webster.

Adjunct professor David Hilditch said the meetings mediated by Greer and set up by the university had anti-union atmospheres.

“I think that was the appearance of what happened,” Hilditch said. “The way that those forums were set up — it was a pretty anti-union context and environment that was created. His [Greer’s] role was pretty obviously to undermine the credibility of the union.”

Greer Consulting

Greer Consulting states on its website that the firm “defeats union organizing tactics.”

“What we do plain and simple is win National Labor Relations Board  (NLRB) union elections.  The NLRB says unions win 64 percent of NLRB elections, however our win rate is nearly 95 percent of all NLRB petitions filed when we are hired,” Greer’s Labor webpage reads (www.greerconsultinginc.com).

When contacted by The Journal, Jason Greer said the university could speak for his time working as a consultant for Webster. The Journal inquired to the specifics of Greer’s time working with adjuncts and whether he was contracted to prevent unionization.

According to Greer Consulting’s proposal to Webster, Greer would not serve as a “registered persuader” or try to campaign or persuade during the forums. He also would act as an onsite resource for faculty and staff.

According to the firm’s website, the registered persuaders are brought in to meet with employees to discuss the pros and cons of unionization.

In an article published in 2012 by The Morning Call, a newspaper in Pennsylvania, it was reported Jason Greer consulted for Pratt Corrugated Logistics. Eleven truck drivers, who were laid off by Pratt, reported to The Morning Call that Jason Greer questioned them days before they were laid off. According to the article, Greer refused to give his identity to the drivers when asked multiple times.

Only after they were laid off did they discover Greer’s true identity. The drivers told The Morning Call Greer questioned the drivers in small groups, asking how they felt about working conditions and problems they thought should be addressed.  Those truckers were laid off days after meeting with Greer.

Adjuncts Then vs. Now

Reilly said she was glad to be able to see the amount that was spent on Greer Consulting. However, she said the university should watch how it spends its money when there have been repeated budget shortfalls.  

“We rarely know what the bottom line billing of consulting is,” Reilly said. “Regarding the amount, $17,000 is a lot of money in a time when all units, all schools and all areas are being asked to cut their budgets and people have lost their jobs and its predicted that people will lose jobs because we’re at a deficit again this year.”

A statement from the university stated that in the end, neither Greer Consulting, Inc., nor the union organizers from the SEIU determined the outcome of the election.

Hilditch said he thinks the administration had Webster’s best interest in mind during the unionization vote. He said, however, that in the long run he believes Webster’s adjuncts will unionize.

“I think that they were protecting what they thought were the interests of the university, and I think they sincerely believed that the union was not a good idea,” Hilditch said. “I think they’re wrong about that.”

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