Part-time instructors organize to seek fair treatment in STLCC’s academic structure
By: Katie Hayes
Adjunct Instructor of English, Glenna Gelfand, has taught at Meramec for the past 12 years. Although her employer remained consistent, her workload did not.
Adjunct professors across the country continue to push for a stable workload, sick days and healthcare — in short, unionization.
In November 2015, the adjunct faculty at STLCC voted to unionize. The decision was approved by the Board of Trustees Jan. 15 and adjunct faculty met with their unionization group, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Feb. 6 to begin contract negotiations.
“Even though we have a contract for the semester, it’s not a binding contract,” Adjunct Professor of English Glenna Gelfand said. “In theory, I could hear from the administration tomorrow that I’m gone. And that can’t happen if I have a promise, or a contract that goes for a year that says, ‘you are promised two classes each semester for this coming year’ or whatever it is. It goes semester to semester and it’s not binding. And it’s not always guaranteed.”
The semester contract adjunct faculty at Meramec currently sign is not legally binding. Should classes be cancelled due to low enrollment, adjuncts are the first to lose classes. Previously, it was assumed that this was beneficial to both parties since adjuncts could also leave should a better opportunity present itself.
“It’s not common for an adjunct to leave in the middle of a semester,” Assistant Chair of STLCC-Meramec English Department and Assistant Professor Rich Peraud said. “It’s very common however, to shuffle the schedule in the two or three days leading up to a semester. It happens almost every semester.”
It was previously assumed that part-time employees would move on to become full time. Gelfand, however, has taught part-time on and on for 12 years, and said securing full-time employment is difficult.
“if someone like myself, or any number of my colleagues, are asked back year in and year out, we’re obviously doing a good job, so why shouldn’t we be paid what everybody else is paid for that same job?” Gelfand said. “Why shouldn’t we have sick days? Why shouldn’t we have medical care if we want it? Why shouldn’t we be able to buy into health care?”
Although part-time faculty may not work full time at one institution, that does not mean they do not work full time.
“Another big problem with the adjuncts is that, often times, some adjuncts who want to get into teaching, they might be teaching as an adjunct at three or four institutions outside of St. Louis Community College,” Peraud said. “They might teach two classes for us, They might be teaching one at Webster and two over at SWIC. So they actually have more of a teaching load than full-time faculty, and they’re getting paid less, they have no benefits, they’re traveling.”
Not all adjunct faculty wish to secure full-time employment, however. Peraud said there are part-time faculty with full-time jobs, who teach on the side.
“It’s a tricky balance,” Peraud said. “Let’s say you were an adjunct for us, and I can only give you one class. Is it worth your time and energy to drive out here to teach a class two days a week, three days a week, for 16 weeks, knowing that it’s not that much money. I try to respect that for faculty who can teach more.”
Even those who want to teach more however, are kept at part-time hours so institutions aren’t required to offer them health benefits.
“Adjuncts can only work a certain number of hours because if they work over that number of hours, they would be considered full time and we have to offer them health benefits and health care insurance,” Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs Janet Walsh said. “That’s why they’re part time, so we don’t have to offer those health benefits.”
Walsh said that most part-time employees don’t anticipate having those benefits, but expect them as full-time faculty. However, she also believes that adjunct faculty unionization is a positive.
“I’m all for making sure that we treat people the same and fairly,” Walsh said. “It’s a document and an organization that helps us be fair. So that we have equal rights and equal working conditions for all of our employees.”
There is a union for full-time faculty at Meramec as well. While full-time faculty unionized with National Education Association (NEA) almost 35 years ago, part-time faculty unionized with Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Gelfand said unions were not originally interested in representing adjunct faculty.
“NEA was not interested in unionizing us, and now that they see the movement across the country, they are now starting more and more to unionize adjuncts,” Gelfand said. “They said that adjunct faculty’s needs conflicted with those of full-time faculty needs and I don’t agree with that.”
Former STLCC-NEA President, and currently Professor of Communications, Doug Hurst said he supports adjunct unionization at Meramec.
“I think we’re only stronger as a college when we’re organized,” Hurst said. “So I’m all for rights for all faculty.”
Hurst said he hopes one day all faculty will be under the umbrella of NEA, but also said he does not believe the joint resolution between the full-time faculty and STLCC will be affected by the new contract between part-time faculty and the college.
“The joint resolution is board policy, so those are rights that we have negotiated over a period of almost 35 years of negotiating as a union,” Hurst said. “So those can’t be changed. The college can’t take those away from us unless they break our contract.”
Currently, the joint resolution between full-time faculty and the college allows full-time faculty to teach overload. This means that faculty may teach more than full time — specifically they may teach up to 18 extra credit hours per two semesters.
What teachers are paid for overload is not based on salary at Meramec, but instead increases whether they are an instructor, associate, assistant or full professor, respectively.
“Your best resources are your full-time faculty,” Hurst said. “The best resource we have is the full-time person. So I’ve always supported, if there is available overload, or available summer classes, that the full-time faculty person should have access to those.”
Walsh also said she did not have an issue with overload.
“Education today is unfortunately I think kind of looked at like a business, a corporation,” Hurst said. “So we need an organized wing to support our rights. It puts out a better product if you want to look at it like that. And having an organized labor force of the teachers supports that.”
The problem with overload from an adjunct faculty member’s perspective though, is those extra classes have the ability to make their workload less stable.
“I think that the tide has turned and more and more institutions are allowing for adjunct unions or it’s happening whether they like it or not, but I think it is important for students to realize that ultimately, this affects the quality of their education and it affects their future employment opportunities,” Gelfand said.