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Adjuncts march for labor union

In a Monday rally, professors gathered on Main Campus in support of an adjunct union.

Adjunct professors chant, “Let us vote,” as they march down Liacouras Walk on Feb. 23. Pending a March 19 hearing with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, adjuncts are demanding a vote for or against unionization. | Kara Milstein TTN

Less than a month ahead of a March 19 hearing scheduled with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, around 70 adjunct professors, supporters and students gathered on Main Campus Monday to rally in support of unionizing.

Leading chants of “Let us vote” and carrying a deep-blue banner depicting silhouettes walking against the backdrop of a white Philadelphia skyline, the group stopped at Sullivan Hall, a hub for senior administrators at the university, where they chanted some more.

 “Lies and tricks will not divide; students, adjuncts side by side,” they said. “What’s disgusting? Union-busting,” they shouted.

Since petitioning the PLRB in mid-December with requests to join the Temple Association of University Professionals – Temple’s union for full-time faculty – adjuncts are waiting for an election for faculty like them to decide on unionizing.

“We want the adjuncts to join our union, and they want to join our union as well,” TAUP President Art Hochner said. “We’re in full support of their petition and hope that they’re successful. Right now, Temple’s just standing in the way of an election.”

The adjuncts claim the union will enable better collective bargaining for higher pay, more health care options and job security. Currently, adjuncts are paid a minimum of $3,900 per three-credit course, a university spokesman said.

A conference call with the PLRB was scheduled for Feb. 10, but the PLRB decided to move right to a hearing in Harrisburg on March 19 due to concerns about the proposed union, Associate Vice President for Human Resources Operations Sharon Boyle told The Temple News at the time.

Senior Associate University Counsel Susan Smith said those concerns included questions about UAP’s role in the process, since it was not a party to the petition that was filed with the PLRB.

The adjuncts, meanwhile, contend that Provost Hai-Lung Dai is simply trying to forestall their election.

“The provost is interfering with that process,” said Ryan Eckes, an adjunct professor in the English department. “He’s denying us the right to vote by delaying the election.”

Dai emailed letters to all adjunct faculty throughout the Fall 2014 semester, asking for feedback on issues and reminding them that joining the union includes paying dues and that withdrawal could be difficult.

“We are concerned that once the union files a petition for representation, we cannot continue the meetings we have had with you, the adjunct faculty, until there is an election,” he wrote in a letter dated Sept. 29.

In a phone interview Monday, Boyle said Dai did not have jurisdiction over the vote.

“It’s not up to the provost, it’s up to the PLRB,” Boyle said. “So far there’s a hearing scheduled, but there’s no vote scheduled.”

Hochner, meanwhile, contends that Temple is encouraging unsustainable union arrangements.

“What Temple is saying is that adjuncts who are a part of other schools, the professional schools, which we don’t represent, we don’t represent the full-time faculty in those schools … they think they should be in a union with those adjuncts,” Hochner said. “Let them have the determination for themselves that they want a union, and what union they want to join.”

Linda Lee, an adjunct in the Intellectual Heritage department, said she wanted a union because she believed “teaching should be a sustainable career.”

“In the current system, it’s not,” she said. She added that issues like classes being canceled just before each semester’s start could lead to wasted time.

“While it’s simpler to say, ‘Go out and get a full-time job,’ the way that hiring trends in higher education work, that’s just not a feasible option for most people,” Lee said. She said most of the adjuncts she knows either have a spouse with income or some additional income, including teaching at multiple schools, which sometimes leads to teaching more than the standard course load a full-time professor would have.

This semester Lee teaches at Philadelphia University, the University of Pennsylvania and Rowan University in South Jersey in addition to Temple, she said.

Adjunct pay and benefits are becoming part of nationwide news. This week is National Adjunct Action Week, according to the American Federation of Teachers site, and National Adjunct Walkout Day is scheduled for Wednesday.

Joe Brandt can be reached at jbrandt@temple.edu on Twitter @JBrandt_TU.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story which ran in print on Feb. 24 stated that Temple canceled the conference call with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. According to Associate Vice President for Executive Communications Ray Betzner, the PLRB decided to move to a hearing and cancel the call after Temple administrators said they had some concerns which they wanted to address.

The story also stated that the adjuncts were trying to join the United Academics of Philadelphia, a local unit of the American Federation of Teachers. They are only seeking incorporation in TAUP, the union which currently represents Temple’s full-time faculty, except for in the professional schools.

The story has been updated to reflect both corrections.

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