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Latest News - May 2015

May 11, 2015
Webster U adjunct faculty rejects union
By: Koran Addo

Adjunct faculty at Webster University has voted against forming a union, marking a significant defeat for union organizers who have targeted area universities as ripe for collective bargaining.

Out of 668 eligible voters at Webster’s four St. Louis-area campuses, 212 voted for collective bargaining, while 268 voted against.

An additional 53 votes were challenged and nine voided.

Leonard Perez, an administrator with the National Labor Relations Board for the St. Louis region, explained that ballots can be challenged for a number of reasons including an improperly filled out form or a questionable signature.

While the union has seven days to file objections to the vote, the outcome will not change. The effort to form a union would still be three votes fewer than needed, even if all 53 of the challenged ballots were deemed necessary and pro-union.

“We are hopeful and confident this outcome will stand,” Webster spokesman Patrick Giblin said.

That statement is the most forceful to come out of the university, in the months leading up to the vote. University leaders have refused to publicly take a stance on unionization, except for a few sentences on a special website the university set up and promoted as “information only.”

“After careful consideration and consultations with many, we firmly believe that unionization is not in the best interest of our university or our faculty,” the statement said.

Pro-union faculty described the university’s informational website as blatantly anti-union.

“Today’s vote count is a setback, but it doesn’t change the course we’re on,” said Jeffrey Maret, an adjunct anthropology professor at Webster.

The vote slows some of the momentum gained by the Service Employees International Union which negotiated a 22 percent raise and better job security in October for adjunct faculty at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

The SEIU won another victory in January when adjunct faculty at Washington University voted to unionize.

Monday’s vote could be interpreted as a sign that unionization efforts in St. Louis will be heavily contested, campus by campus.

The SEIU has also reached out to adjunct faculty at Lindenwood University, St. Louis Community College at Meramec and St. Louis University.

In the past two years, faculty at 25 schools around the country, including Georgetown and Howard universities, have teamed with SEIU to form unions.

The recent votes are part of the SEIU’s nationwide Adjunct Action campaign.

The premise is that universities are having it both ways — charging students more in tuition, while increasingly relying on adjuncts as a cheap source of labor.

Considered the working class of the academic community, adjuncts are typically the would-be professors who cannot find more secure jobs in an oversaturated job market.

Forced to accept part-time positions, they don’t enjoy benefits or the job security of full-time professors.

They are generally assigned as fill-in teachers when full-time professors are bogged down with heavy course loads. They typically work on semester-long contracts, not knowing if they will be asked to continue beyond the current semester.

The Adjunct Action campaign made waves earlier this year when union leaders announced their goal of $15,000 per course for adjunct faculty across the country.

It’s an ambitious goal considering the pay adjuncts are getting currently, which ranges generally from $2,000 to $4,000 per course.

At Webster, adjuncts are paid based on their years of experience. The university reports that average pay for adjuncts is $3,000 for a three-credit course.

They are also eligible to contribute to a retirement plan and enroll themselves or family members in a limited number of courses tuition-free, once they have met certain benchmarks. 




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