Lesley’s adjunct professors secure union

Originally published Feb. 25, 2014 in the Cambridge Chronicle.

Lesley University adjunct professors voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), with 84 percent of respondents voting to unionize.

The votes for the all-mail ballot were counted at the Boston office of the National Labor Relations Board Monday, Feb. 24, the SEIU said in a press release. Representatives from the union said it was the second time in five months that faculty at a Boston-area university voted to form a union following a successful effort at Tufts last fall. A vote in October last year at Bentley University failed, SEIU campaign director Malini Cadambi told the Chronicle in an earlier interview.

Shaari Netirin, an adjunct professor at Lesley for 18 years, only recently returned to teaching after a five-year hiatus, she said, because of the poor wages and low job security.

“I remember I left the same year they gave us a cost-of-living increase of two percent and at the same time, started charging us for parking,” Netirin said. “I was humiliated, and I left shortly thereafter.”

But, like many adjuncts, Netirin said she returned because she loves to teach. She said the organizing work at Lesley had already brought the faculty much closer and the union would help keep them connected.

“We’re so isolated. Some people come and go. You’ll have people in the department who you see teach one course and then you don’t see them again for another two years,” Netirin said. “It would be great to have a more solid cohort that will help with continuity in dealing with our students as well as giving us a better base to learn from each other about how to be better teachers.”

In January, the City Council voted unanimously to approve a policy order, submitted by Councilor Leland Cheung, supporting the right for adjunct faculty across the city to unionize.

According to the city’s annual Town Gown report for 2013, Lesley had 176 full-time faculty members. Lesley’s director of communications, John Sullivan, said the school employs another 200 to 300 part-time faculty depending on the semester.

A total of 426 adjunct faculty members cast ballots, with 359 voting in favor and 67 voting against, according to the SEIU. Sullivan told the Chronicle the institute supports the adjunct faculty’s right to determine whether or not to be represented by a union in their working relationship with the school.

“We respect both the process and the outcome of the vote,” Sullivan said. “We’ll continue to be engaged in the next phase.”

Roughly 67 percent of all faculty members in the Boston area were comprised of adjuncts in 2011, according to a report by the SEIU. Faculty members have expressed growing concern over the low wages and uncertainty of not knowing whether any particular class would get canceled.

Norah Dooley, an adjunct professor at Lesley, has only been teaching at the university for a year, but said she was already feeling the frustrations of adjunct life.

“We’ll all be in this together in a way that I think is really exciting,” Dooley said. “If adjuncts are treated fairly, it means a better quality education for the students.”

Netirin said that instead of voting to elect officers, they would be working with a non-hierarchal organizational structure that breaks the union into committees and solicits input through surveys. Dooley said they were in the process now of reaching out to the adjuncts and really figuring out what it is that the professors would like to bargain for. She said group health care benefits would be right at the top of the list.

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