December 3, 2020

Webster adjunct faculty contemplate rejection of Proposition A

David Hilditch said his father–a NASA employee–did not support unions until joining one. He said his father came to recognize how unions could help workers progress, though he would not discuss the matter in front of Hilditch’s mother, who was decidedly anti-union.

If his father were alive, Hilditch said, he would have greatly opposed Missouri’s recently proposed ‘Right-to-Work’ law.

Currently in Missouri, employees pay dues–a pre-decided portion of their income or even smaller fee–to support the workers’ union of their company. Proposition A, or the ‘Right-to-Work’ law, would have given workers the choice to join the union, thus allowing them the opportunity not to pay into the union.

Unions negotiate for all workers, regardless of whether or not they pay full dues or pledge their support. If Proposition A passed, workers who chose not to pay into the union would still receive any benefits negotiated by the union.

“[My dad] probably wouldn’t say anything around Mom to start an argument, but he would’ve been against the concept of ‘right to work,’” Hilditch said. “He would have voted against it.”

Hilditch is an adjunct philosophy professor at Webster. He said his father’s pro-union stance influenced his own opinions, giving him a base on which to build when the ‘Right-to-Work’ law appeared on the Aug. 7 primary election ballot.

Missouri became the first state to ever repeal a ‘Right-to-Work’ law on Aug. 7.
Graph by Kristen Farrah

The proposal first passed in the state’s general assembly last year, but the August elections decided whether the law went into effect. Missouri voters rejected the law–nearly 70 percent voted against the bill.

Scott Granneman is a web development adjunct professor at Webster, Washington University and Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville (SIUe). Washington University has an adjunct faculty union, but Webster and SIUe do not.

Granneman said he was the first person at Washington University to sign the union card–an official indication of support for the unionization process–and thought Proposition A would significantly weaken unions therefore hurting workers.

“[‘Right-to-Work’ laws] make it sound like, ‘Oh, this is how you have the right not to pay anything,’ but it actually guts the people who are looking out for your job and your benefits,” Granneman said.

Unions grant benefits to all workers, even those who do not support unionization, Granneman said. He said unions represent collective bargaining and have greatly helped the Washington University employees since their unionization in 2015, including to negotiatinge a 25 percent pay raise to take place over four years.

Proposition A supporters, Granneman said, were primarily Republicans in big businesses, specifically working against the Democratic Party. He said if fewer people paid into unions upon entering a company, the less power a union would have and the more profit business owners would gain without union involvement fighting for worker rights.

Terri Reilly was the first adjunct professor to sit on the Faculty Senate at Webster and said Proposition A represented a problem long debated: who deserved more money?

“Prop A would have profited management,” Reilly said. “Unions strive to ensure workers profit. A New York Times’ headline stated this past July that: ‘Paychecks Lag as Profits Soar, and Price Erode Wage Gains.’ It’s an age-old paradigm–make profit for stockholders, not workers.”

Reilly was involved in the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) campaign for adjunct unionization in 2014, with both Granneman and Hilditch. Webster adjunct faculty voted against continuing the unionization process after almost two years of deliberation.

Almost 60 percent of Webster professors are adjunct faculty, Reilly said. According to Hilditch, these professors normally work at multiple universities to sustain a healthy income, hindering their abilities to help students and tenured faculty.

“If the adjunct faculty were paid more, they might be more willing to stick around and be more available [to students],” Hilditch said. “Right now there is a kind of crunch, and a lot is being asked of the full time faculty. The more time they spend doing administrative stuff is time that is kind of siphoned off of time they could be giving students.”

When Webster adjuncts discussed unionization, Granneman said the Webster administration issued emails and statements trying to dissuade union support. When the process halted, he said Webster promised to communicate with adjuncts to build trust and help employees.

Through Webster’s promises, Granneman said, Webster has never mentioned increasing adjunct faculty income.

“That would be the worst part [of unionization] for [Webster],” Granneman said. “They’d have to pay more money.”

As of now, Reilly said there were no plans for a unionization attempt at Webster. Hilditch doubted efforts would begin at Webster for a significant time, but in the future, Hilditch said the rejection of Proposition A could greatly shape St. Louis schools.

“In the long term, it will make a difference because whatever Webster looks like in ten years, the academic market around it will be restructured by unions,” Hilditch said. “Pay will have gone up, and adjuncts will be comparatively better off at other schools. Webster would have to compete with other schools for adjunct labor, so they would have to pay more.”

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