December 13, 2007

Unionists show solidarity for Pace adjuncts

Source: NYSUT News Wire
Caption: UAFP President John Pawlowski (second from the right) joins Santa and his brothers and sisters on the picket line in front of the Pace University campus in Westchester County.

The irony wasn't lost on John Pawlowski as he walked the picket line in front of the Pace University campus in Westchester County.

A few hours prior, during a staff recognition day, the Pace administration presented Pawlowski with a small pin adorned with three diamond studs to mark 35 years as an adjunct professor. Yet, despite the university's token gesture, he couldn't help but feel a nagging sense of frustration fueled by the overall lack of respect that Pace has shown him and his colleagues.

For three years, the university's administration has refused to settle the first-ever contract with its Union of Adjunct Faculty at Pace. The UAFP - which represents more than 1,000 adjunct faculty at Pace's three campuses in Westchester and New York City - joined NYSUT in 2004 and negotiations began that fall.

"We'd like to see them get a little more serious," said Pawlowski, the UAFP president. "There's been some progress on some very minor fronts. But as far as the major issues go - job security, better salaries, benefits - there's been no movement."

Negotiations have remained at an impasse since last year, when the university objected to a National Labor Relations Board decision to allow into the collective-bargaining unit all adjuncts who teach at least three credit hours and/or 45 hours in a semester. Because only adjuncts who taught more than one semester were allowed to vote in the union election, the university has been seeking a reversal of the NLRB decision in federal court.

"What really upsets me is how this school is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyer fees," said Tracy Basile, an English and environmental studies adjunct at Pace. "The university has been dragging its feet for two-and-a-half years at huge expense."

Pawlowski and Basile were joined in the picketing by their fellow adjuncts, as well as union members from other higher ed and NYSUT K-12 locals who made the trip to the campus 30 miles north of New York City in a show of solidarity. In a brisk wind, pickets struggled to keep aloft placards that read " Pace University: Respect Your Professors!" and "It's Time for a Fair Contract!" Passing motorists honked horns in support of the adjuncts, as Santa stood nearby with a red sack full of "gifts" for Pace President Stephen J. Friedman that included rubber rats and coal.

Fairness

Steve Reich, president of the Valhalla Teachers Association, said the picket was about fairness.

"We're all in this together," Reich said. "The university is failing to support basic labor rights."

"This is an important issue," Joel Schlemowitz, an adjunct professor at The New School in New York City, where he is president of UAW Local 7902. "Adjuncts are on the front line in teaching."

Schlemowitz said there's been a trend in recent years at both public and private colleges to "tilt away" from granting tenure and using full-time professors in an effort to control costs.

Still, he noted that adjuncts at New York University and the New School settled their first-ever contracts in 2004 and 2005, respectively. In both cases, he said, adjuncts won significant wage increases, access to health benefits, enhanced job security and grievance procedures. Based on those successes, Schlemowitz said, there's reason to believe the Pace adjuncts will succeed, too.

"It's really important their jobs be decent, that they have jobs in which they can earn a living and from which they can get some respect and reward," he said.

John Eshoo, a former longtime Yonkers teacher who retired after 36 years in the classroom, joined the picket. He said it was important to show support "because I know what it feels like" to go without a contract.

Pawlowski said while the union is frustrated by the university's stance, he's holding out hope. Noting that both Friedman and Provost Geoffrey Brackett are in their first year and inherited the dispute from a previous administration, Pawlowski said there's reason to believe the two administrators want to "get this resolved."

But in the meantime, the university's court battle to change the UAFP's composition leaves Basile frustrated.

"I guess it's just another way for them to try to divide us," she said. "It just isn't fair."

- Matt Smith