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Adjunct faculty at Tufts vote on whether to unionize

Posted by Your Town  July 22, 2013 05:14 PM

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Part-time faculty at Tufts University announced today in a statement that they will vote on whether to unionize in an upcoming election.

Tufts adjuncts will vote by mail ballot in September, and the National Labor Relations Board will count the ballots later that month. If the vote to unionize passes, the Tufts adjuncts will work with the Service Employees International Union, an organization that has unionized more than 15,000 adjunct professors from across the country.

Tufts is part of a larger trend: the SEIU is partnering with part-time faculty from several Boston-area schools, including Bentley University, to advocate for better working conditions, benefits, and wages.

"We want to have a voice in our employment decisions," Tufts adjunct Rebecca Kaiser Gibson said today in a phone interview. "We want to be able to talk as equals at the bargaining table."

Tufts spokeswoman Kim Thurler said in a statement today that the university, SEIU, and National Labor Relations Board agreed on the procedures for "a union representation election for the part-time lecturers employed in the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts."

"The election will be held in September, and we will respect both the NLRB process and the outcome of the election," Thurler wrote. "As an employer, Tufts strives to create a climate of mutual trust and respect for all faculty and staff. We will continue to be guided by that principle."

Kaiser Gibson, who teaches poetry writing, said her colleagues often work extra jobs including as tutors or freelance writers to compensate for inadequate pay. Kaiser Gibson also said that one of her co-workers is a shoe salesman on the side.

She said many adjuncts are continuously worried that their one-year contracts will not be renewed. Last year, one adjunct who had pneumonia was petrified of missing his classes for fear that his contract would be discontinued.

"In spite of history, I witnessed my colleagues being scared that they were going to be eliminated every year," Kaiser Gibson said.

In 2011, adjuncts held 50 percent of teaching jobs at colleges in 2011, up from 34 percent in 1987 and 22 percent in 1970, according to the SEIU. Among private, non-profit colleges and universities in the Boston-area, 66.8 percent of faculty are non-tenure track and 42 percent are part-time.

Bentley adjuncts are scheduled to vote in late September on whether to unionize with the SEIU. Part-time Bentley professor Jack Dempsey said in an earlier interview that “I don’t know how to argue for less than equality. We are going to be asking for equal pay for equal work.”

Katherine Landergan can be reached at klandergan@globe.com. For campus news updates, follow her on Twitter @klandergan.

Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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