During a week of reporting on today’s front-page story about developments in adjunct unionization, several faculty members came to our reporter with complaints about TAUP, the union which represents Temple’s full-time faculty.
The complaints were about a shift in focus toward unionizing adjuncts and less on issues like healthcare, a perceived lack of communication regarding how almost doubling the union’s membership could affect current members.
In previous editorials, we gave a pro-union position, and with good reason: adjunct faculty—particularly those who adjunct for a living—can face poverty-level wages, insufficient or no health benefits, and a lack of job security. Unionizing, we felt, was the morally right thing to do if it will definitely bring adjuncts out of poverty. We recognized that the university has touted benefits for adjuncts negotiated without a union, but we nonetheless felt the backing of a formal entity could help hold the university accountable and ensure due process and fairness to career adjuncts.
The contrary view, however, is adjuncts are “at-will employees”: contract workers meant to fulfill one or a few specific class needs of a department. The university unsuccessfully argued before the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board that it wasn’t necessarily responsible for each adjunct’s rights. The labor board decided that adjuncts ought to be able to vote because they share enough in common with full-time faculty, including the design of courses and writing their own syllabi, and several adjuncts at Temple teach with the highest degree in their field.
Any faculty who told us the union wasn’t as focused on its current members would later be pointed to a TAUP bulletin advertising gains made in the past few years, including merit pay improvements and guidelines for tenure and promotions.
Given our history of adjunct support, we’re not here to decide whether the gains for the full-time faculty are enough. We are concerned about a portion of the faculty who deserve fair pay for educating the next generation of leaders, though we’re far less certain if a union is necessary.
But we do see an evident lack of communication and transparency in the union that’s been lobbying the university for decades.
Recruiters soliciting votes in the mail-ballot election, in which only adjuncts can vote, have been described by four different unprompted faculty members as “aggressive.”
We’re disappointed at reports of conduct and rehearsed pitches that amount to “you’re either with the adjuncts or against them.” One was told that by not voting, she was keeping adjuncts from a living wage.
The truth is, unfortunately, far more nuanced and complicated than that. Faculty have a justifiable right to be disappointed in TAUP for forgetting its current members and focusing too much on the new, and adjuncts have a right to decide if a union is not right for them.
We just hope all adjuncts express their views with their votes.