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GPPI Senior Fellow Pablo Eisenberg was among the university faculty members who spoke in support of adjunct unionization Thursday night.

Service Employees International Union Local 500, which serves adjunct professors at American University and The George Washington University, filed a motion to vote to represent adjunct faculty at Georgetown last Friday, bringing adjuncts here one step closer to unionization.

In a meeting held March 21, union representatives announced that at least 30 percent of Georgetown adjunct professors had signed union authorization cards, which is the minimum proportion required by law for SEIU Local 500 to file a motion to vote with the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that oversees unions.

After filing the motion, the NLRB will send out secret ballots by mail in mid-April to eligible adjunct faculty members that have taught credit-earning courses this academic year. However, adjuncts working outside of the District, at the Georgetown University Law Center or the Georgetown University Medical Center, which includes those in the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing & Health Studies, will not be able to vote, according to a message sent by Provost Robert Groves to university faculty.

If over 50 percent of those who vote approve the measure to have SEIU Local 500 represent them, the adjuncts will be unionized.

The Georgetown Solidarity Committee, a student group centered on fair employment practices, organized a unionization event for the adjuncts last Thursday.

“It’s mostly showing the adjuncts that we as students support them and we as students support their unionization, and kind of just making sure that people realize [that] this is going to benefit the entire community, not just adjuncts,” Sydney Browning (COL ’15), a GSC member, said.

Anne McLeer, director of research and strategic planning for SEIU Local 500, believes union representation will lead to better job security and benefits for the adjunct professors.

“People should be paid the same wage for the same work,” McLeer, who spoke at the event, said. “This erosion of the middle class and casualization of the professions, that’s what’s going on in higher education.”

According to McLeer, over 50 percent of professors in higher education are part-time and another 25 percent are contingent, meaning they were hired on a non-tenure track.

And this figure has been on the rise in recent years, including at Georgetown. There are about 200 adjunct faculty members at Georgetown, a figure that is almost double that of a decade ago, according to Wayne Davis, chair of the faculty senate.

Adjunct faculty constitutes part-time instructors who are contracted for a semester on a class-by-class basis, without the research or duty requirements of tenure-track or tenured professors. Most adjunct faculty hold master’s degrees, as opposed to their non-adjunct counterparts who typically hold doctorates.

The average adjunct makes $21,000 a year, without benefits, according to Maria Maisto (SFS ’89,GRD ’92), who spoke at Thursday’s meeting.

Maisto, an English adjunct at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio, and president of New Faculty Majority, an adjunct advocacy group, argued that the treatment of adjuncts affected the entire university environment.

“Students suffer when faculty do not have good working conditions,” Maisto said. “Our conditions are your conditions. … I sometimes joke to my students that they should go ask ‘Where’s my adjunct tuition rate?’”

Pablo Eisenberg, a 13-year senior fellow adjunct at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, reflected on how attitudes toward adjuncts differed between students and tenured faculty.

While student groups fought for living wage policies at Georgetown — which is the only such policy in the country — to support employees such as adjuncts, tenured professors, on the other hand, often look down on their adjunct colleagues, according to Eisenberg.

“You had an elitist approach on the part of tenured faculty,” Eisenberg said. “Somehow, by virtue of their Ph.D.s, they were special people. … Adjuncts are the untouchables.”

In addition to salary, adjunct professors face a different career outlook. For some adjuncts, teaching is a second job in addition to their primary one. Other adjuncts teach after retirement from their career.

Not all adjunct professors share the sentiment that they are mistreated by the university, however.

For Frank Warman, an adjunct in the psychology department, adjunct teaching positions should be designed for those who have successful careers and benefits elsewhere. While Warman does not oppose the movement, he said that he has not been roused to join it, either.

“I’ve always thought of adjunct teaching as being more the thing you do that’s not your day job — you take care of those needs by doing something else,” he said. “I didn’t get agitated about adjunct issues. It’s probably for younger people who have to hold on to three or four jobs to make a living. … I’ve told people I actually would work here for free. The rewards of working here have exceeded my expectations.”

Browning believes, however, that the views of professors like Warman cannot be applied to all adjunct professors.

“The money they make from being a professor here is nothing to them because they are already making a large income,” Browning said. They don’t understand why [unionization] is important.”

GSC has advocated for living wage rights in the past, with a 10-day hunger strike that resulted in the university raising workers’ wages and granting them the right to organize. The committee was also instrumental in helping workers atO’Donovan Dining Hall unionize with UNITE HERE, a national food service labor group, in 2011, and has supported them in protests against their employer, Aramark.

“I think Georgetown is terrified of another public fight,” McLeer said.

But so far, in contrast to the initial reactions of GWU and American when their adjunct professors first announced their intent to unionize, Georgetown has pledged neutrality and neither plans to contest the adjuncts’ right to unionize nor interfere with the vote.

In a message to the main campus faculty, Provost Robert Groves wrote that he expects the deadline to submit ballots to be late April or early May but that the NLRB has not yet said when it will count the ballots. He reiterated that Georgetown does not oppose the unionization process.

“As stated in Georgetown’s Just Employment Policy, the university respects employees’ rights to freely associate and organize, which includes voting for or against union representation without intimidation, unjust pressure, undue delay or hindrance in accordance with applicable law,” Groves wrote.

Browning invoked Georgetown’s Catholic values as a strong justification for improved treatment of adjunct professors.

“Several of our other workers on campus are unionized, so it doesn’t make sense that our adjuncts aren’t unionized,” Browning said. “We’re a Catholic school, and Catholic schools should be devoted to social justice and the dignity of labor, and that includes professors having a collective voice in advocating for themselves.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that 50 percent of eligible voters had to vote in favor of unionization for SEIU Local 500 to represent the adjunct faculty at Georgetown. The article has been corrected to reflect that adjuncts will be unionized if the majority of those who vote approve the measure.

 

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