April 06, 2017

Adjunct pay an urgent issue for unions

Source: NYSUT Communications
elins
Caption: “On my campus, adjunct issues are the single biggest issues right now,” said Roberta Elins, Policy Council chair and president of the United College Employees of the Fashion Institute of Technology.

NYSUT’s Higher Education Policy Council members, meeting Thursday at the Pre-RA Local and Retiree Presidents Conference, discussed the formation of a working group to address issues confronting adjunct and contingent faculty — including the possible push for a statewide minimum wage.

“On my campus, adjunct issues are the single biggest issues right now,” said Roberta Elins, Policy Council chair and president of the United College Employees of the Fashion Institute of Technology. “For us to think that higher ed is going to return to the days of tenure track full-time faculty is like saying coal is going to make a comeback.”

Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress which represents CUNY faculty and staff, said the group should organize and advocate for a minimum wage for adjuncts — similar to the ‘Fight for $15’ campaign that aimed to raise the nation’s minimum wage.

“There is more pressure from different quarters now to do a substantial increase,” Bowen said, adding that PSC has proposed a “marker” of $7,000 per course.

Though she acknowledged CUNY is not “anywhere near that,” she said it was important to “put out a marker.”

Similarly, United University Professions, which represents faculty and professional staff at SUNY, has set its sight on a $5,000 minimum, said UUP Vice President J. Philippe Abraham.

“There is a momentum across the country” for something like this, he said.

UUP member and SUNY Plattsburgh retiree Patricia Bentley noted many adjuncts are not even being paid $15 per hour.

Tom Tucker, UUP Buffalo Center Chapter
Tom Tucker, Buffalo Center Chapter, UUP

“We have to do something,” said Andy Sako, president of the Faculty Federation at Erie Community College. “We’re really not getting the best quality people available because of the lower salaries.”

Stephen Rechner, president of the Union of Clerical, Administrative and Technical Staff at New York University, said the increasing reliance on adjunct and contingent faculty in the world of higher education is also impacting clerical staff. Rechner said a recent audit at NYU showed a large spike in temporary clerical staff. Though the UCATS contract has strong language to protect members from a proliferation of temp hires, Rechner said when the union called out the administration, management’s response was “brazen.”

“Their response was, ‘don’t hire temps anymore, hire student workers because they are even cheaper,’” Rechner said. “So, it’s not just faculty contending with this race to bottom.”

Council members said at a time when more court challenges are aiming to decimate public-sector union membership, it is especially important to push for just compensation to illustrate why unions are relevant.

“There’s an urgency to doing this,” Elins said.