Adjunct Faculty At Seattle U Seeks To Unionize

Feb 20, 2014

The local chapter of the Service Employees International Union has filed a petition on behalf of adjunct faculty members at Seattle University.

The adjunct faculty members, which include part-time, temporary and other contingent instructors, want better teaching conditions, including higher pay.

Nancy Burkhalter is a contingent professor who teaches reading and writing to English language learners in the university's Culture and Language Bridge program. She says forming a union would give voice to a group of instructors who are marginalized.

"We come in at the last minute. We're given textbooks we would never have chosen on our own. We're sometimes given a syllabus, sometimes not, so we have to create one at the last minute," said Burkhalter, who is in her second quarter teaching at the university and earns $1,000 per one unit of instruction.

According to a union fact sheet, contingent faculty represented 56 percent of all faculty in 2011. A full-time contingent lecturer at SU earns only 40 percent of what a tenured professor makes.

It's now up to the National Labor Relations Board to decide when part-time faculty can vote to form a union.

In a statement published on the school's website, University Provost Isiaah Crawford said it’s the right of the faculty to decide whether to support SEIU but went on to say that the university’s current process of working collaboratively with the Academic Assembly and directly with one another is a better approach. When similar faculty members at Pacific Lutheran University tried to organize there, the university pushed back, saying it was a "religious institution." That put a decision by the NLRB on hold. Seattle University is a Jesuit school.