Temple University’s adjunct instructors are in a union; now what?

Now, union leaders say, the real work begins — at the bargaining table.

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After more than two years of battling with the university, Temple’s 1,400 adjunct professors last month won the right to unionize and join tenured professors in union representation at the school.

But now, leaders say, is when the real bargaining begins.

“What’s next is bargaining for job security and higher pay and benefits, especially,” said Ryan Eckes, an adjunct professor who is leading up the unionization efforts. “It could give us more job security and higher pay, which means down the road, depending on what we negotiate for, people teaching at Temple may not have to work at as many schools as they currently do.”

The adjuncts are now members of the Temple Association of University Professionals; like many across the nation, the part-time instructors are often paid far less than tenured faculty but these days teach a higher percentage of courses than ever before. Some 25 percent of part-time faculty across the country are unionized and here in Philly, a similar effort is going on at Philadelphia University. The move could mean big changes for part-time professors at Temple in the next year as leaders are hoping to negotiate for higher pay and, largely, benefits that they say currently don’t exist.

Here’s a look at the unionization effort, what’s next and why union members’ pay will initially drop:

How this happened

The university administration was largely against the move and was a big part of why this took more than two years to get done.

The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, which oversees union activities in the state, requires that 30 percent of a workforce must agree to authorize an election to vote yes or no on a union. Authorization cards were signed by hundreds of adjuncts last fall and, by December, the group had filed with the PLRB to authorize a vote.

But Temple publicly stated it was against the move and attempted to block the effort by filing with the PLRB. The University claimed adjuncts shouldn’t be allowed to join the TAUP because of fundamental differences in how tenure-track and tenured professors work compared to part-time adjunct professors. The university also argued that in 1978, the PLRB ruled that part-time faculty at the Community College of Philadelphia couldn’t receive the same benefits as full-time employees because they weren’t similar enough. Temple University didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“They were really disrespectful in the actual hearings and they tried to argue that we’re not real faculty and that we’re disloyal to universities,” Eckes said. “It pissed off a lot of people.”

So following hearings and eights months of consideration by the PLRB, the board decided to side with the adjuncts and ruled that the group could vote to unionize and join TAUP. Even after the ruling that the professors could take a vote, Temple’s administration chided the move.

“It is unwise for TAUP to be in a position to favor the interests of one group over another,” Provost Hai-Lung Dai wrote in an email to faculty. “Adjunct and full-time faculty are similar in some ways, but there are also important differences in responsibility and priority over tenure, workload, pay and contracts. For these reasons, merging adjunct faculty into TAUP does not make sense for full-time or adjunct faculty.”

But enough adjuncts voted anyway with the support of the American Federation of Teachers and the United Academics of Philadelphia, and at the end of November won the right to unionize in a landslide vote. About 74 percent of the school’s 1,400 adjuncts voted, and the final tally as calculated by the PLRB was 609-266 in favor of the move to join TAUP.

In an email to faculty following the vote, Dai didn’t indicate the administration would appeal, saying “Now that the vote is completed, it is time to move forward.”

What it means now

Adjunct professors at Temple are now fully represented on the school’s faculty union — which has effectively doubled in size — and professors who don’t choose to join the union can, according to Eckes, still reap benefits of contracts that might be reached through collective bargaining.

But in order to join the union, participate in discussions and vote, faculty members must fill out membership cards and actually elect to join. TAUP also doesn’t represent adjuncts in the professional schools of law, medicine and dentistry, so adjuncts in those schools can’t elect to join.

Initially, pay for voting union members will go down as dues are deducted. The current dues schedule for 2015-16 TAUP members is 0.5 percent of base salary in the first year of membership and that increases to 0.75 percent in subsequent years. For tenured faculty, it jumps to 1 percent of base salary, but non-tenure track faculty remain at 0.75 percent.

So in the first year of membership, an adjunct professor teaching three three-credit courses would pay about $58 a semester in dues, assuming dues set during negotiations would remain the same. That would jump to about $87 a semester in subsequent years. And if the union succeeds in raising pay, those percentage-based dues would increase.

In addition, dues include mandated increases passed on to TAUP by parent unions like the AFT and AFL-CIO, which amount to $10.35 per month this school year.

The potential benefits Eckes speaks of will be bargained over at the negotiating table with school administration, and the union hopes to come to a new contract agreement in the next year so one is in place heading into the fall semester of 2016.

Currently, Temple adjunct professors’ pay starts at $3,900 for a three-credit course, and that comes with incremental pay raises over time. The only benefits they receive currently are a parking option. The pay is significantly lower than some other schools, and Eckes points out that pay for unionized adjuncts at Rutgers — which does have a larger enrollment than Temple — starts at $4,800 for a three-credit course. A 2012 study by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce found that median pay per course was 25 percent higher at schools where faculty was represented by a union.

Eckes said the union will also ask for added benefits, including some sort of healthcare plan that adjunct professors currently don’t have. He also added that Temple’s successful efforts to unionize could trickle around the city and impact the 15,000 adjunct professors in the region.

“This is a big step toward improving conditions for adjuncts, not only at Temple, but in the area,” he said. “When one school is unionized, other schools see that. So I think it’s a win for people who really value education, and it’s a win for people who believe in workers’ rights.”

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