Our goals are several: (i) to have a voice in decisions at Tufts that affect our employment and our ability to help make Tufts a great educational institution; (ii) to address pay/benefits, workload and job security; (iii) to address parity with tenure-track faculty; and (iv) to receive support for professional development and research. Indeed, a more intentional and organized relationship with the administration is growing increasingly important as the university has come to rely more and more on non-tenure-track instructors to staff its core mission – educating future generations of talented young people.
Are there other full-time lecturers unions?
Yes! Tens of thousands of full-time, non-tenure-track faculty in the public sector are in unions, including hundreds in the University of Massachusetts system. There are private sector, full-time, non-tenure-track faculty unions, as well, including over 100 faculty members at Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts – one of the oldest faculty unions in the country.
Who will be in charge of our union?
We will be. We will make all of the decisions for our own union. We’ll have officers and our own union contract. Elections and approval of contracts will be decided by a majority vote, but all members can help shape our union by serving on committees, through informal input and formal bargaining surveys, and through the election of officers. All contract proposals will come from us. And, during the process of collective bargaining, we will decide when a proposed contract is good enough to be ratified by majority vote.
Doesn’t unionization make for a more adversarial relationship – something that seems less suited to an academic setting?
That largely has not been the case for other academic unions. Indeed, organizing provides to both administrators and lecturers a stable basis for evaluation and advancement, and would be expected to afford to the former with a more motivated and experienced teaching resource. We’d point out that Tufts University has consistently trumpeted to the outside world the quality of its teachers (more than half of whom, as noted, are lecturers). In addition, our goal here is not to wrest from department chairs, deans and other administrators their traditional prerogatives – such as, determining what courses to offer, deciding who will teach which courses and what those instructors’ qualifications should be, hiring new instructors, and working with faculty to enhance students’ educational experience at Tufts. Rather, our goal is to recognize the achievement and professional standing of the university’s teaching staff.
I’m relatively contented now; why take time to unionize?
The brief answer is that lecturers at Tufts University face considerable risk as they attempt to build careers here. Just because you are feeling good about life at the moment provides little assurance that that feeling will continue indefinitely (or even past next year). Moreover, we have gathered much evidence that contentedness is not endemic here, and that significant unexplained variations exist in how lecturers in different departments (and even the same department) are treated and what their baseline compensation is. Finally, it’s worth noting that unionization won’t require much or any time from those who, having apprised themselves of their negotiating team’s actions, are happy to delegate the decision-making process to the team.
Do full-time lecturers from different departments have sufficiently common interests?
From observing the part-time lecturers’ organizational process, which has been going on for a year and a half, our conclusion is that departmental differences are greatly outweighed by common interest in job parity and job security. The goal is not to negotiate every last aspect of our working conditions (we are, after all, part of a sizable academic faculty), but to ensure that our pay, benefits, and other key conditions are consistent with our work and with our role in the larger Tufts enterprise.
How will a full-time lecturers union relate to the part-time lecturers union?
Negotiations are underway for a first collective bargaining agreement for the newly united part-time lecturers. Together, part-time and full-time lecturers comprise at least 50% of the teaching staff at Tufts, and that percentage has grown over time. Part-time staff share many of the same concerns about parity, job security and other key conditions of employment. Working alongside each other to advance common goals would benefit both part-time and full-time lecturers at Tufts. Over the course of a career, a given lecturer may seek to move from full-time to part-time, or vice versa. If both part-time and full-time lecturers had the benefit of the job security and pay parity that a union contract offers, this desirable flexibility would not come with a penalty. It also would decrease the incentive to play one group off against the other (e.g., by replacing several part-time lecturers with one (unprotected) full-time lecturer).
What’s the current status of the Tufts part-time lecturers negotiations?
The part-time faculty union is poised to make progress on the key issues of job security, course assignments, professional development and parity with full-time lecturers. Negotiations are being conducted through a bargaining committee consisting of about a dozen lecturers who are committed to the process and have time in their schedules. Members of the bargaining committee were chosen by consensus of the members of each department. The sessions are open to all part-time lecturers at any time, and all are warmly encouraged to attend at any time. The committee is transparent about all aspects of the process: bargaining updates are sent out after every session to keep the membership informed. Once the bargaining committee and the administration reach a tentative agreement, the committee will make a recommendation to the membership (i.e., to all part-time faculty) as to whether to vote yes or no on the contract. To go into effect, the contract must be ratified by a majority of those who vote.
If a union is voted in, how much will dues be?
The average dues rate for members in Massachusetts is around 1.6 percent of our gross salary. But, importantly, no one pays dues until we have: (i) formed our union; (ii) negotiated our first contract; and (iii) voted as a group to approve that contract. In other words, no one will pay dues to the union until we know exactly what gains we’ve achieved through collective bargaining. In short, we decide when we have an agreement that is worth our dues money.
What power do we lecturers have to convince the administration to agree to new provisions addressing compensation and working conditions?
Numerous other certified bargaining units have been in the same position and yet have bargained successfully for salary and benefits that they simply were not able to obtain prior to unionization. Between the protections afforded by federal law, and the fact that draconian action (including refusal to offer significant improvements) will pose a public relations problem for the university, the prospects are excellent that worthwhile gains can be achieved.
What protection do I have if I get involved?
Under federal law, it’s illegal for an employer to retaliate against anyone who is known to be involved in union organizing. It therefore follows that protection against retaliation increases when you are public about your support for the union. Needless to say, the more of us who are involved, the less likely it is that the administration would attempt any sort of action – multiple dismissals would be clear evidence of illegal retaliation, and individual dismissals will be ineffective and almost certain to raise the specter of retaliation, something that management will be keen to avoid. Note that “going public” doesn’t require one to assume a high profile – you could attend meetings of the organizing committee, sign a letter or simply speak to several colleagues (even your chair).
What can I do to help?
The first step is to sign and return a Union Authorization Card. But it’s also really important that you participate in the process. In doing so, you make your own voice heard and help to set our collective objectives.
How long will this take?
An election typically takes four to eight weeks after a sufficient number of Union Authorization Cards are filed with the National Labor Relations Board. Our goal is to build to majority support, and we are well on our way to achieving that goal. In an election, a union will be certified if more eligible members vote “yes” than vote “no.”
What is SEIU?
SEIU is the Service Employees International Union. SEIU represents 75,000 members in public and private higher education in the United States – 21,000 of whom are college and university adjunct faculty. It is the largest and fastest growing union in the country, representing 2 million members in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Note that, although our agreement with the university will be the product of our goals, SEIU stands ready to offer advice and support in the bargaining process.