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Lesley University adjuncts vote to unionize

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  February 24, 2014 01:37 PM

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Part-time faculty at Lesley University have voted to form a union, becoming the second local group of adjuncts to unionize in an effort to improve their pay, benefits, and other working conditions.

Adjuncts from the Cambridge-based university voted 359 to 67 to join the Adjunct Action union, according to an announcement from the Service Employees International Union, which is backing the movement.

Union officials said the results were unveiled after the National Labor Relations Board counted the vote’s mail-in ballots Monday.

“With part-time faculty making up the majority of faculty, our working conditions are directly related to student success and that’s why I’m excited about forming our union today,” said a statement from Matthew White, who graduated from Lesley and now teaches graphic design there. “Our union will help Lesley University provide students a richer experience and better education.”

The vote is part of an effort to unionize adjunct faculty at Boston-area schools as well as colleges in Los Angeles, Washington, and Seattle. Supporters hope that by forming unions they will be able to push for better working conditions, benefits, and wages.

Last spring, the SEIU said it met with part-time professors from more than 20 local colleges to discuss their interest and efforts to unionize.

In September, adjuncts from Tufts University, which has campuses in Medford, Somerville, Boston and Grafton, became the first local group to unionize in recent years when they voted to join Adjunct Action. Tufts adjuncts are negotiating with university officials to draft their first contract, union officials said.

A month after the Tufts adjuncts unionized, a vote to unionize Bentley University adjuncts fell just two votes shy of passing.

Part-time and non-tenure track faculty represent the majority of faculty at universities in the United States, and their numbers continue to rise, according to the SEIU.

In 2011, part-time faculty held 50 percent of teaching jobs at colleges, up from 34 percent in 1987 and 22 percent in 1970, the SEIU said. Adjuncts on average earn about $3,000 per three-credit course. About 80 percent of adjuncts do not get health insurance from their college, and about 86 percent do not receive retirement benefits, according to the SEIU.

Among private, nonprofit universities in the Boston-area, 66.8 percent of faculty are non-tenure track and 42 percent are part-time, the SEIU has said.

“Being a university professor, once the quintessential middle class job, has become a low wage one where instructors face low pay and no benefits or job security,” said a statement from the SEIU, which has unionized more than 18,000 adjunct faculty nationwide. “Many do not even have access to basic facilities like office space, making it increasingly difficult for adjuncts to do their best for their students.”

Lesley adjunct Norah Dooley said teaching one course a semester at the university does not cover the cost of health insurance for her and her family.

"Lesley is exceptional in the way it cares for its students as human beings. As an alumna of Lesley, I love my alma mater yet I wish Lesley was equally as exceptional in its treatment of its adjunct faculty,” she said in a statement.

“While the crisis in higher education is complex, it is not intractable,” added Dooley. “Our overwhelming "yes" vote to form our union with SEIU/Adjunct Action is a great start on a solution. Adjuncts are raising standards not just for adjuncts and not just for Lesley. I truly believe we are raising the bar for all in higher education. Alumni like me want to see Lesley University take a leadership role in this movement.”

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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