Adjunct Union Pursues Contracts
Published: Friday, September 27, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 27, 2013 02:09
Following the successful unionization of Georgetown’s adjunct professors in May, the Services Employees International Union Local 500 union has been working with the university to develop a revised contract for the spring semester.
SEIU Local 500, which also represents adjuncts at American University and The George Washington University, is optimistic about the prospects for adjuncts on the Hilltop.
“We’re hoping that at Georgetown, we can make a real change in the treatment of adjunct faculty,” SEIU Local 500 Director of Higher Education and Strategic Planning Anne McLeer said.
According to McLeer, the primary concern for Georgetown adjuncts is job security; the group is working on yearlong, or potentially three-year-long, contracts.
“Most of us don’t know how many classes we will teach next year until the spring, which makes our situation very uncertain,” adjunct professor of theology Kerry Danner-McDonald (CAS ’93) said. “The adjuncts here love academia and educating Georgetown students. We want to stay here, and we realize that the system is broken in certain places.”
Danner-McDonald also emphasized the importance of changes to adjuncts’ health care plans and wages.
“GU’s commitment to justice and the common good is what is at stake here,” Danner-McDonald said. “My Jesuit education here at Georgetown helped shape who I am today and why my life has been at the service of justice, educating, raising my family and participating in my local community. This becomes difficult to do, however, when I struggle to pay for insurance and child care.”
The adjuncts are also aiming for better communication from the university administration and inclusion in the campus academic community.
“A cultural change needs to take place here at Georgetown. Adjuncts are not part of the university due to budgetary challenges,” American studies adjunct professor and union negotiator Stephen Lane said. “We are part of the community because we contribute to students’ education and development as much as any full-time faculty member. At a school like Georgetown that values a living wage and is bound by its morals to treat its employees well, we feel like this change is possible.”
The negotiations come at a momentous time for adjunct faculties across the United States, with the recent national spotlight on Margaret Mary Vojtko, an 83-year-old adjunct French professor at Duquesne University. After being dismissed without severance pay, Vojtko died of a heart attack because she could not afford the medicine that would have treated her condition.
Thus far, Leer said that adjunct response has been positive, and the committee is aiming to have the revised contract ready by the spring semester.
“What makes it easier on our end is that there has been no negative feedback on the process from any adjuncts, even those who did not vote to unionize back in May,” McLeer said.
Lane added that the meetings with university officials have so far been productive.
“At all of these meetings, there has been nothing but amicable, constructive and open dialogue, something that we really appreciate from the administration and the external council,” Lane said.
Although Director of Media Relations Rachel Pugh would not divulge details from the negotiations, she agreed that the meetings have been constructive.
“Our goal, like the union’s, is to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement that meets the interests of both parties,” Pugh said. “The university will continue to meet and bargain in good faith.”
The mediation meetings between SEIU Local 500 and the university are currently focused on non-economic issues such as inclusion in emails from department chairs to tenured faculty, and the right to object to termination or to an unfavorable peer performance assessment.
“The administration should want to be proactive in providing properly for its professors of whatever status, full time or adjunct, for the sake of the community and the students,” Danner-McDonald said. “I think that on these issues, we are making positive change.”