Adjuncts await union election
By Miharu Sugie, News Staff
Northeastern University’s adjunct faculty filed a petition to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a union election on March 14, making another step in the legal process of forming a union.
The Northeastern Adjunct Faculty Organizing Committee announced on nuadjuncts.org that the ballot for the union election will be mailed to eligible voters’ home addresses by the NLRB on April 25. As part of the legal process, the university is required to provide the Board with a complete list of the eligible adjuncts’ names and home addresses. The deadline to mail those confidential ballots to the NLRB is May 14.
Three months have passed since the adjunct faculty first came together. In these three months, the part-time professors and lecturers have gained momentum, as adjuncts in Seattle, Wash., Baltimore, Md. and Washington, D.C. have also filed their petitions. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Congressman Michael Capuano urged Northeastern to respect the adjunct faculty’s right to organize.
“We are in communication with the faculty at [other] schools,” Will Shimer, a part-time lecturer in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business, said. “In turn, because Northeastern University is a large school in Boston, other schools in earlier stages of their unionization campaigns are watching us. We have formed a Boston-wide coalition to exchange information and support each other. Similarly, Boston is but one node in a nationwide tide of union formation.”
Last week, Shimer said that Northeastern faculty and faculty involved in the sister campaigns traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet each other and coordinate their efforts. Shimer said that Northeastern is leading the charge, as campaign members have also reached out to peers in Canada and Mexico.
Anne Fleche, part-time lecturer in the College of Arts, Media and Design, said that it may have been difficult at first to organize, since the adjuncts were basically invisible and lacked unity, but with the immense amount of support from Northeastern students and community members, the Committee reached a very exciting point.
Following the filing of the petition, Fleche said that the goal of the Committee has shifted.
“The goal now is to get the word out and remind everyone to watch the mail for the ballot,” Fleche said. “The ballot has to be filled in correctly and mailed in by the correct date, and we have to make sure everyone knows about that.”
The Northeastern community’s support has been a crucial stepping-stone to the adjuncts’ cause, Fleche said. In fact, members of the Empower Adjuncts Community Coalition (EACC), a Northeastern community of students, workers and others in support of the unionization, marched to President Joseph E. Aoun’s office yesterday. Irem Girmen, a sophomore international affairs major, said that EACC members in suits delivered a fake non-renewal letter with “April Fools” written on the back.
Girmen, who joined the EACC to support her part-time professor, said that they invited Aoun to join the EACC’s event “Adjuncts Speak Out: A Teach-in for Solidarity” today at 7 p.m. in 250 Dockser Hall. Although Aoun was not present to receive the invitation and the letter, Girmen said she hopes he will attend and discuss with the adjuncts face-to-face, as the EACC has reserved a seat for the president. Girmen said she hopes the entire Northeastern community will come together today.
Students like Girmen are not the only ones speaking out; full-time faculty, who recognize the difference in privileges full-time and part-time faculty receive, have also taken notice of the campaign.
“Let me take you back into history. The original universities, when they were created in the Middle Ages like the University of Bologna … the way these universities formed were faculty got together and hired administrators to administer for them,” Barry Bluestone, director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy and dean in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, said. “I would say today, increasingly, universities, including Northeastern have become major large corporate enterprises basically run by administrators.”
Since the filing of the petition, Northeastern has updated its website with “Part-time Faculty Information and FAQs.” Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Stephen W. Director has since posted details on the election dates and the university’s participation with NLRB’s process. The university has not explicitly stated its position on the issue, but Director posted in August 2013, that “Again, we encourage you to educate yourself before taking any action with respect to SEIU’s organizing activity, including signing a union authorization card.”
“You, our faculty, are the cornerstone of Northeastern’s unprecedented success,” Director wrote on the website in March. “This is why we believe it is so important that part-time faculty educate themselves about union representation before making a decision.”
Even so, Bluestone, who joined the faculty union at University of Massachusetts Boston when he taught there before, said that faculty members are essentially now working for the administrators, leading to the faculty, especially the adjuncts, having less voice and less input on how the university is run and how they ought to be treated.
“The administration has made clear that they oppose unionization. They have held mandatory meetings for department chairs, and sent out many emails that contain this message,” Steven Vallas, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, said. “In fairness, the administration has not run a slash and burn campaign. They have kept things relatively civil, and this is important. But it’s clear where they stand.”
Shimer said that “the atmosphere of isolation at Northeastern University is dissipating, like a thick fog lifting.” However, he added that in the two weeks since the Committee started working with the NLRB, he has received four emails from college deans and the Provost’s office.
“These emails take the tone of father-knowing-best, which is troubling to many adjuncts,” Shimer said. “Moreover, the letters are addressed to each recipient by name, as if communicating one-on-one, and this to recipients who lack job security, especially at this time of the year. The resulting fear effect is magnified because, in the years prior to our unionization campaign, administrators rarely spoke to adjuncts about workplace conditions or anything else.”
As The News previously reported, the university has partnered with Jackson Lewis, a law firm that has been providing “How to Stay Union Free” seminars. According to Vallas, the law firm has held informational sessions with Northeastern’s chairs and program directors about unionization. Vallas said that he and many other chairs and directors have pointed out that unionization increases pay, job security and other benefits for adjuncts;
“I think this is something that all of us – especially students – should support,” Vallas said.