By Jason Ritchey, news correspondent
The Northeastern University (NU) administration reached a tentative contract settlement with its 900 adjunct faculty members on Jan. 14, concluding more than a year of negotiations just five days before a planned walkout and strike.
A press release from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 509, which represents the adjunct faculty, said the major gains in the agreement include “significant, across-the-board increases in per-course pay, including double-digit raises for the lowest-paid instructors; compensation for courses canceled on short notice; inclusion in the Northeastern community; and access to funding to support research, scholarship, civic engagement and professional and artistic practice.”
Haley Malm, an adjunct professor of English as a Second Language (ESL), was glad to see progress.
“We were fighting for living wages for all adjuncts, job security – we are hired from term to term, with no assurances of future employment or course guarantees – and full inclusion in campus life and community,” she said.
However, the negotiation process was not always easy.
“It often felt as though the administration was uninterested in improving working conditions or inclusion of the adjuncts who are part of the bargaining unit,” she said. “The administration was more interested in preserving the status quo of maximum management flexibility and total control of adjunct compensation than showing that they value instruction.”
In an open letter to Northeastern faculty and staff on Jan. 14, Provost James Bean described the agreement as “fair and equitable,” adding that “[Northeastern’s] accomplished and diverse faculty is the backbone and lifeblood of the university. We deeply value the contributions to our community made by all faculty – part-time, full-time, tenured and non-tenure track.”
Fourth-year health science and political science major Casey Liston does not believe the university handled the adjuncts demands well.
“Generally, I stay optimistic and believe the best of administrations or institutions and the people leading them,” she said. “But the steps the university has taken against unionization and, until very recently, implementing fair contracts for such a large percentage of the faculty is absolutely shocking to me.”
Still, adjuncts say that further discussion is warranted.
“As with all negotiations, we did not get everything we wanted. One major concession was health insurance,” Malm said. “Northeastern is offering us more or less the minimum they are required to in order to be in compliance with the Affordable Care Act.”
The negotiation also extends to students, some of whom stood in solidarity with the part-times by blocking the Green Line in November to raise attention to the adjunct’s cause. As a result, visibility for the part-time staff grew.
“More than 1,000 emails were sent to the president and provost from within and beyond the Northeastern community,” Malm said. “All of this was essential to pointing out that adjuncts are essential to the Northeastern community and that our allies would support us.”
Rick Faletto, a sophomore cultural anthropology major and adjunct activist, showed fervent support for the cause.
“Hearing directly from our own professors of their demeaning treatment at the hands of our administration brought tears to my eyes,” he said. “How could our educators, my role models and the foundation of our university, be treated with such disrespect for the sake of profit?”
Such activism would have culminated in a university-wide walkout and picketing on Jan. 19, which the university has insisted did not impact and would not have impacted their final offer for the negotiations. The strike was called off once the agreement was finalized.
“This contract shows a marked departure from the status quo,” Halm said. “When we start to negotiate a second contract, it is my hope that a stronger, more trusting relationship between union and administration will have developed which will lead to a less acrimonious process.”
But the contract is, for many, an undeniable success. Joanna Gattuso, a masters of public health graduate student, expressed praise for the agreement.
“This shift is a true testament to what we can accomplish when our university community comes together for an important cause,” Gattuso wrote in a letter to supporters of TrueNortheastern.org, a domain unaffiliated with the university that supported the adjuncts. “We let the administration know that we were prepared to support a strike if they refused to take action. And we won.”
Photo by Brian Bae