Adjunct faculty at Wells College in Aurora, New York took a big step toward unionizing last week. Organizers filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board. At an election, adjuncts would vote “yes” or “no” to a union.
The move is the latest in a year full of union drives for adjuncts, who work under short-term contracts and, nationally, make notoriously low salaries. Wells is a tiny private school, with just over 500 students. Earlier this year, the much larger, also private, Ithaca College saw a successful adjunct union drive. At two community colleges, adjuncts fought to separate their unions from full-time faculty.
“We wanted to make sure we had a voice for adjuncts at the college, and being accreted into the full-timers association wasn’t a move that we thought would insure that,” Tompkins Cortland instructor Robert Earle explained last summer. Earle and other TC3 organizers resisted the college’s push for a combined unit. TC3 is still waiting for a state ruling on the separate unions, but Cayuga Community College adjuncts won the same fight in June.
Adjuncts at SUNY four-year schools are already unionized, but this month SUNY Oneonta organizers successfully pushed for a raise in starting pay. In past years, the SUNY professors’ union has not been able to negotiate a minimum starting adjunct salary. They’re headed into a new round of contract negotiations this spring.