Forming the Tompkins Cortland Community College Adjunct Association in 2016 was an uphill struggle, but in the end, members say their administration has found value in the local, and that has laid the groundwork for a series of consequential victories.
“We had pushback from administration for two years, but once we got started, I think administration realized that a union would benefit us both,” said Patrick Sewell, President of the Adjunct Association for Tompkins Cortland Community College, also known as TC3. “We could help them save time and head off problems, and they liked that.”
The battle to get the local started began back in 2014, when TC3’s adjuncts decided to organize for better pay, benefits and to hammer out the specific terms of their employment. “We saw that administration was changing — there was a lot of turnover — and we were concerned about what might happen,” said Herman Altmann, Adjunct Association Vice President. “There were many things that had gone unwritten that had to be formalized.”
Most of the college’s 250 adjuncts wanted the union, but the administration fought them, saying that they should join the existing union for full-time faculty, even though they had separate concerns. The union filed a petition with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board, which ruled in their favor in March 2017. The Union is just one of a handful of stand-alone adjunct locals NYSUT represents throughout the state. They successfully negotiated their first contract in 2018.
Their first contract established a seniority system, labor management committee and grievance process, and 2-percent per year salary increase and benefits, as well as fitness center reimbursements and tuition waivers, said Sewell.
“The benefits in the contract we negotiated mirrored a lot of the benefits the full-time faculty had,” said Sewell.
The adjuncts’ local also included tutors, and the contract provided for new opportunities and rights for those professionals, including an excellence award and compensation for school closings.
Their second contract, ratified in 2019, went even further, establishing compensation for the local president and setting aside funds for professional development. The contract also increased compensation for prep time, set up a scholarship fund, and included a 4 percent per year salary increase.
“At this point, we have a good working relationship with administration,” said Sewell. The secret? Proving value and mutual respect.
“One of the ways that I work is that I am firm, but I don’t burn bridges, and that’s tricky, especially if you feel that you are being treated unfairly or being shut out,” said Sewell. Holding grudges is counterproductive, he said. “Once you have that contract — and you will — you have to remember that you will go back to working with these people. It’s important to overcome that feeling of anger and maintain good relationships.”
Sewell and Altmann are justly bullish about their next contract, due in 2024. They have already outlined their biggest concerns, including COLA increases, better rates on health care buy-ins, and delineating the number of credit hours adjuncts are allowed. “We don’t want mini courses to hurt adjuncts’ take-home pay,” Sewell said.