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Mills College Adjunct Instructors Fight for the Right to Unionize

By Harriet Staff

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The East Bay Express slam dunks this recent article about Mills College adjunct faculty’s fight to earn a living-wage. While shedding light on the plight of Bay Area adjunct professors, many of whom are poets, this in-depth article by Sam Levin also reveals that, according to an SEIU study, “given the regional median pay per course for adjuncts—$3,300 at the master’s level and $4,500 at the doctoral level—a typical adjunct would have to teach between 23 and 32 classes a year to afford rent and utilities for a two-bedroom apartment in the Bay Area.” Yikes!

In May, 78% of Mills College adjuncts voted to join SEIU Local 1021: a union that represents 50,000+ public sector and non-profit workers in Northern California. Last month, Mills College administrators and union representatives began talks toward the college’s first-ever union contract for adjuncts. According to Express, Mills is the first private, nonprofit college in the Bay Area to have its adjuncts unionize. Many other local schools are now following suit. However, according to Express, Mills College administrators have been somewhat resistant to adjuncts’s efforts:

[…] While activists celebrate this milestone, Mills administrators have, according to a number of adjuncts and labor activists, responded with a series of retaliatory actions. SEIU 1021 has already filed four unfair labor practice charges against Mills, alleging that the college has implemented policy changes without giving the union proper notice or an opportunity to bargain — and has retaliated and discriminated against two faculty members for union organizing. Critics say the administration’s actions reflect an ongoing failure to support adjuncts and a level of resistance to unionization that contradicts the progressive values the college purports to promote.

“At Mills, like many other schools, the programs could not be running in the way they are running without adjuncts,” said Stephanie Young, an adjunct English professor who has been working at Mills since 2004. “We are members of the faculty.”

Despite her decade working for the college, Young’s teaching title remains “visiting assistant professor.” Until last month, she also held the administrative position of “director of English graduate enrollment and programs.”

But in early June, just weeks after the successful vote to unionize, Young learned that the provost’s office had eliminated her director position — a move that she said came as a shock to her and her department supervisors. The decision to cut her director position — one in which she oversaw admissions, enrollment, professional development, and more — means she will no longer be a full-time employee at Mills. Instead, she will only be teaching classes part-time in the fall.

This action by the provost, Kimberley Phillips, prompted the union to file a charge of retaliation and discrimination with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging that the college reduced Young’s position because she had been active in union organizing. Young is now a member of the bargaining team.

“The idea that a provost would come in and fire your administrative staff is kind of unheard of,” said Juliana Spahr, a tenured professor of English and former director of creative writing. Spahr said the provost’s office did not consult with any dean or director in the English department in advance of cutting Young’s position and another administrative position. […]

The elimination of Young’s position and the resulting turbulence in the English department is arguably a strong illustration of why adjuncts need union representation — and a demonstration of the important role non-tenured faculty play at the college and the way in which their jobs are so vulnerable. […]

Continue reading The East Bay Express’s coverage of this conflict here, and stay tuned for additional updates.

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, August 4th, 2014 by Harriet Staff.