Adjunct instructors at Gonzaga University hope to form the college’s first faculty union.
The instructors, who are not on a track to become tenured professors, work on temporary contracts and earn much less than professors.
The Gonzaga adjuncts also say they earn much less than adjuncts in public colleges and universities. They have no job security, no health benefits and little, if any, voice regarding the direction of their workplace, those who are backing the union drive say.
Signatures are currently being gathered to form a union on GU’s Spokane campus.
“We’re not whining,” said Scott Kinder-Pyle, an adjunct who teaches philosophy and religion at GU. “It’s a privilege to teach. It’s a privilege to teach at Gonzaga. We just want an equal, legal standing.”
GU administrators have been meeting with union organizers, but so far the university has not taken an official stance.
“Lecturers and adjunct faculty are free to bring their concerns to the administration without any third-party intervention,” said Dave Sonntag, assistant vice president of marketing and communications. “We are committed to identifying their concerns, addressing issues, solving problems and responding to misinformation.”
He added, “The administration maintains that, as has historically been the case, direct conversations with faculty and employees are the best way to identify and handle issues.”
Adjunct and other temporary faculty make up 57 percent of GU’s teaching staff. The private university’s adjunct workforce is below what one recent study found was the rising use of these teachers. The study by the American Association of University Professors found that adjuncts and one-year, non-tenure-track teachers are the largest workforce in America’s universities – a combined 76 percent.
Adjunct professors often work at more than one college. Kinder-Pyle, for example, teaches at Eastern Washington University as well as GU. His annual salary from the private college is about $11,000. EWU pays him about $22,000.
In Washington, adjunct faculty at public colleges and universities in Washington automatically receive union representation under state law, even if they don’t pay dues. Adjunct instructors at private institutions do not have the same right, and union movements have cropped up as their adjunct workforces have grown.
GU is the most recent private college in Washington to move in that direction. Pacific Lutheran University and Seattle University adjuncts have already taken a vote, but the votes are sealed while legal battles at the universities play out.
Administration at PLU and Seattle U contested union organization, but the regional labor relations board found that adjuncts had the right to organize. PLU is awaiting a decision from the National Labor Relations Board. Seattle University’s administration has just begun its appeal at the national level.
Meanwhile, Louisa Edgerly, an adjunct professor at Seattle University, said college leaders have addressed some of their concerns. “It’s not a coincidence,” she said, but “it could possibly fall under the category of too little, too late.”
As adjunct faculty continues to grow on America’s campuses, the concern is making sure those educators have an equal voice, Edgerly said.
“We’ve become the majority on almost every campus,” she said. “What does that mean for the profession as a whole? We believe that forming unions on campuses is one way to begin to have this conversation of what this means to education.”
Jane Harty, a part-time music professor at PLU, said the principal of “equal pay for equal work” is the issue.
Harty works half time teaching music. While a permanent, full-time professor makes about $50,000 annually, her salary is $11,000.
GU union organizers hope school administration will officially take a neutral stance and allow them to form a union.
GU’s decision to hire the same Tacoma law firm that PLU hired to fight unionization could indicate otherwise.
Union organizers say they want college administrators to demonstrate the social justice taught to university students.
“Gonzaga’s mission points to ‘an exemplary learning community that educates students for lives of leadership and service for the common good,’ with ‘a mature commitment to dignity of the human person, social justice … (and) solidarity with the poor and vulnerable,” an organizing letter handed out to faculty states. “This is sadly, contradicted by the University administration’s treatment of its adjunct instructors and lecturers, especially when it comes to job security and pay.”