Adjunct Faculty Association of Chicago, IEA-NEA

By Tom Suhrbur, IEA organizer

There are literally thousands of adjunct instructors They teaching at more than fifty colleges and universities in the Chicago area. (In the city alone, there are three public universities and seven community colleges, as well as 21 private non-profit, 20 private for-profit and 11 proprietary institutions of higher education). They are very low paid and receive few, if any, benefits from their employment. For many, part-time teaching is a major source of their income. They often travel from one campus to another teaching 12 ñ 20 hours per semester struggling to make a living. Some are students working on their doctorate degrees. Others are hoping to land a tenure-track teaching job. Some have side jobs, often low wage non-academic labor, to augment their teaching income. Others rely on their spouses or domestic partners to help pay the bills. Some have other careers and teaching is a side job. It is a very diverse workforce but, whatever the circumstances, they share a common love of teaching; their efforts are shamelessly exploited and they resent it.

It is important to note that adjunct faculty have fewer rights and protections under federal law than the lowest-paid, hourly employees working at Jack-in-the Box! The Fair Labor Standard Act mandates that hourly employees be paid for any time spent working and that they receive overtime compensation after 40 hours in a given week. Furthermore, the federal minimum wage law establishes a base pay for hourly employees. These laws were enacted at a time when a college education was a ticket to a better life. Federal labor laws sought to establish a minimum standard to alleviate the worst case of economic oppression in the labor market which, at the time, was associated with less educated employees. These laws did not cover "Professionals." Hence, adjunct faculty can work unlimited hours and receive as little compensation as their employers can manage. Unorganized faculty are hired "at will." Their employers have exclusive authority to set the terms and conditions of employment. At some Chicago-area higher education institutions, adjunct faculty teach as many as six courses per term with no benefits and for poverty-level wages. The only recourse for "at will" employment being subject to the whims of the employer and the competition for jobs in the labor market is to organize a union.

The problem in trying to organize adjunct faculty is that it is a highly mobile workforce. These instructors are often referred to as "Roads Scholars." They spend very little time on any one campus outside the classroom. Having two or more jobs means that they are constantly on the move. Most do not have offices, phones or even desks of their own at the institutions where they teach. Hence, they have few opportunities to get acquainted with each other and to act in any concerted manner around common interests. Organizing such a group calls for a strategy, quite different from that used with full-time employees. Instead of a campus by campus approach focused on a collective bargaining campaign, we must first create a metropolitan-wide organization, recruit members and, only when we achieve a critical mass on a given campus, campaign for collective bargaining. All adjunct faculty would be invited to join the Adjunct Faculty Association of Chicago (AFAC) from both public and private institutions even if they do not qualify for bargaining unit status as is the case for community college adjuncts teaching less than six hours per semester (current Illinois law severely restricts the rights of all community college adjuncts. We must work to change the law). Our goal is to build a movement across the metro area. Adjunct faculty teaching less than six hours at a community college may also be teaching courses at several other institutions. We cannot leave them out.

This strategy means that we need an adjunct faculty association that will offer individual instructors benefits and programs that, in themselves, will make IEA membership attractive with the added incentive of collective bargaining and a contract if organizing efforts on campus are successful.

The object would be to recruit thousands of members to sustain an organization which will, in effect, have the potential to control the part-time labor market and, eventually, to establish collective bargaining for adjunct instructors on individual campuses throughout the metro-area. Such an organization would have the leverage to improve substantially salaries and, perhaps, the numbers to create a Taft-Hartley health insurance trust for adjunct faculty in the metro area.

If IEA is to provide the leadership in organizing these part-time instructors, it must act soon. The details of the Columbia College contract have been made public. The average salary increase in the first semester of this initial contract is 64%. Some adjunct faculty will receive more than a 100% increase. This ground-breaking achievement has received a great deal of media attention and inspired other adjuncts to action. IEA must be prepared to act by having a plan of action for part-timers to rally around. This plan of action is the AFAC an organization that adjunct faculty can join with the hope of emulating Columbia College's success. The initial recruits to the Association will likely include a leadership cadre most committed to an organizational answer to the exploitation of their labor. With IEA's support, they will be positioned to organize thousands of other part-time instructors working in the Chicago area.

AFAC would essentially be an effort to create a community of scholars where one currently does not exist. The Association would organize this community in order to take collective action to address economic, pedagogical and personal needs of its members. It would be a self-governing body that would develop its own vision and a strategy to organize part-time faculty. It would be AFAC members' responsibility to recruit others to join in their efforts.

Though IEA would sponsor the organization, adjunct faculty who join the AFAC would not be asked to pay dues nor be members of IEA-NEA until collective bargaining rights have been established Some might want to join IEA-NEA for access to our membership benefits prior to gaining collective bargaining status but this would not be a focus of our organizing efforts. Whatever the case, IEA will provide the resources and professional expertise to assist AFAC in its organizing activities. The Association will meet on a regular basis, adopt a constitutional structure and develop strategies to organize members at any campus which it has a presence throughout the metro-area. With IEA assistance it could create a number of programs to encourage others to join. Listed below are some suggestions for the Association:

The Association would be a self-governing body that would develop its own vision and develop an organizational strategy based on that vision. It would be AFAC members' responsibility to recruit others to join the organization. Each campus on which the Association has a presence could establish an Advocacy Committee, which could pressure their administration to address members' concerns. These adjunct faculty could agitate on their campuses around issues such as low pay, lack of benefits, office space, voice on the college council/faculty senate, cancelled classes and job security. Collective bargaining would be the ultimate goal of these advocacy committees. But even without collective bargaining, these efforts would focus attention on the issue and would likely have a positive impact on salary and working conditions of all p-t faculty across the metro area.

Once collective bargaining has been established on a given campus, IEA would ask the adjunct faculty to become dues-paying members. Hopefully, these newly-organized local associations would remain active in the Association, assisting others in their organizing efforts.

Putting together such an organization would be a major undertaking. IEA must be willing to commit its resources and money on the front end with the expectation of building sustainable bargaining units long term.

If IEA is successful in recruiting large numbers of part-time faculty into the Association , it could become a self-governing IEA region which would serve as the official voice of its members in the state organization. This region would interview and hire a full-time UniServ Director to serve its members. (Note: Each region has a full-time staffperson whose salary is paid by the state association but hired locally.)

It makes sense to have all adjunct faculty under one region. The Association could plan and coordinate activities metro-wide though its individual campus chapters. It would rely heavily on a list server through the Internet as an organizing and communications tool. It could conduct monthly meetings. A region consisting of Oakton, Columbia College, College of DuPage, Roosevelt and other institutions would better serve part-time faculty needs.

Last revised on January 25, 2003 by the Webmaster.