Unionizing Adjuncts: Higher Education and the Labor Movement

May 9, 2014

Law schoolAdjunct faculty at two Minnesota schools recently took steps to unionize. In April, adjuncts at Hamline University and Macalester College filed petitions with the National Labor Relations Board to allow them to conduct a union election. Adjunct faculty supporting unionization argue that they are dramatically underpaid, especially in light of their educational qualifications and in comparison to tenure-track faculty. Unionization supporters indicate that adjuncts have far fewer resources and benefits as well as lower pay. Most must take on classes at multiple schools, making it difficult for professors to truly engage with their students and reducing the quality of instruction overall.

While this movement to unionize adjunct faculty has just begun here in Minnesota, the issue has been around for some time.

A Cornell article notes that New York University adjunct faculty created the largest bargaining unit of private sector adjuncts in 2002. Risa L. Lieberwitz, Faculty in the Corporate University: Professional Identity, Law and Collective Action, 16 Cornell J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 263, 330 (2007)

Also, see John C. Duncan, Jr.’s article describing the “typical difficulties encountered by adjuncts,” The Indentured Servants of Academia: The Adjunct Faculty Dilemma and Their Limited Legal Remedies, 74 Ind. L.J. 513 (1999)

Prior Administrative Decisions

The NLRB first permitted part-time faculty to form a collective bargaining unit in 1982.  See University of San Francisco, 265 NLRB 1221.

Other, more recent decisions allowing adjuncts to vote on unionization include:

Seattle Univ. Employer & Serv. Employees Int’l Union, Local 925 Petitioner, 19-RC-122863, 2014 WL 1713217 (N.L.R.B. Apr. 17, 2014)

Saint Xavier Univ. Employer & St. Xavier Univ. Adjunct Faculty Org., Iea-Nea Petitioner, 13-RC-22025, 2011 WL 4912692 (N.L.R.B. Div. of Judges May 26, 2011)