Effort to Unionize Adjuncts by Region Starts a Campaign in Boston

April 12, 2013

A national labor union that has made strides in organizing adjunct instructors in Washington, D.C., and its Maryland suburbs is starting a similar regional campaign in Boston and is planning one in Los Angeles, too.

Service Employees International Union developed its "metropolitan" organizing strategy out of a belief that, by unionizing adjuncts at enough colleges in a large, urban labor market, it can put other colleges in that area under competitive pressure to improve their own adjunct instructors' pay and working conditions.

SEIU's first such city-focused effort, in the Washington area, has so far resulted in the formation of adjunct unions at American and George Washington Universities, which are private, and at Montgomery College, a public institution with campuses in three of Washington's Maryland suburbs. Adjunct faculty members at Georgetown University are in the process of deciding whether to form an SEIU-affiliated union, and their votes are scheduled to be counted on May 3.

The national union has given the name Adjunct Action to its campaign to organize adjuncts in the Boston area. It plans to stage a symposium on adjunct unionization in Boston on Saturday, involving adjunct instructors at more than 20 local colleges.

Malini Cadambi Daniel, SEIU's campaign director for higher education, said on Thursday that, while most adjunct faculty members at Boston's public colleges belong to collective-bargaining units, the private colleges in and around that city are "sort of untouched" by unionization.

Compared with Washington, Ms. Daniel said, "Boston is the bigger market for higher education, but in that sense it is a nut that needs to be cracked." New adjunct unions formed at private colleges throughout the Boston area, she said, would "have the potential to really set the standard across the country."

In a statement that Adjunct Action issued on Thursday to announce the Boston campaign, Deborah Schwartz, an adjunct professor of English at Boston College, said, "When a university is asking $50,000 in tuition from students, one wonders where the money is going and why it's not going into instruction."

Labor activists gained little success in a similar effort to organize part-time instructors in and around Boston in the early part of the last decade. At the time, however, the idea of unionizing adjunct instructors was relatively new, and only a few private colleges around the nation had collective-bargaining units for adjuncts.

Ms. Daniel said SEIU was also "definitely looking" at the Los Angeles area as a potential site for a metropolitanwide organizing attempt, but its effort there was still in the research-and-planning stage.