Advocates of Adjunct Union at East-West U. Score a Big Win

December 20, 2010

Adjunct faculty members seeking to unionize at East-West University have been granted considerable job protections as part of the settlement of unfair-labor-practice charges filed on behalf of several whose contracts were not renewed.

Under the terms of an agreement approved last week by a National Labor Relations Board official, the private university in Chicago has agreed to provide back pay and new job protections to five adjunct faculty members who were denied contract renewal last summer while leading an effort to unionize part-time faculty members there. The university has also agreed to publicly post notices announcing the agreement and assuring its other employees that they will not be subject to dismissal or other negative repercussions if they support a union drive.

One of the five adjunct faculty members, Curtis M. Keyes Jr., on Monday cheered the agreement as sending a "strong message" to university administrators that they cannot interfere with unionization efforts. He said a new union drive is planned for after the university's winter quarter begins, in January, and if administrators obstruct it in ways that violate the new settlement, "we of course are going to yell, yell, yell."

"This was a great victory," said Tom Suhrbur, an organizer at the Illinois Education Association, which had represented the part-time instructors in their appeal to the labor-relations board. "You don't get a settlement like this unless the evidence is overwhelming against the employer and they had no choice."

Dismissals Followed Union Drive

East-West officials have not issued any statement about the agreement, and a spokesman for the institution did not return e-mails on Monday seeking comment. The university has argued that its decision not to renew the contracts of the adjunct faculty members had nothing to do with their unionization efforts. Under the terms of the settlement agreement the university denied any violation of the National Labor Relations Act.

The five part-time instructors covered by the agreement were among eight denied contracts for subsequent teaching work last summer while leading the unionization efforts. The three others had chosen not to take part in the unfair-labor-practices litigation filed on behalf of their five colleagues by the United Adjunct Faculty Association at East-West University, an affiliate of the National Education Association.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, which an administrative-law judge had urged East-West to sign midway through a trial last week, the university has agreed to give each of the five adjuncts back pay of 80 percent for work they would have done in the summer and fall quarters if their contracts had been renewed.

The university also agreed to guarantee them class assignments for each of the next three quarters amounting to the average number of classes they had taught each quarter in the past. The agreement provides that the university cannot discipline any of the five in the future without showing just cause and—barring any justified disciplinary finding against them—cannot refuse to issue them positive letters of recommendation should they seek work elsewhere.