University ups outreach as union cards fly

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The Service Employee International Union (SEIU) has sent out union authorization cards to part-time faculty members, Provost Marten denBoer said in a letter addressed to faculty last week. The actions come as the university steps up its outreach to part-time faculty members who may be weighing unionization.

DenBoer emphasized that “with signed cards from a majority of faculty members in whatever bargaining unit is eventually defined by the union, the union could demand recognition from DePaul without ever giving you the opportunity to vote in a representation election.”

The university has worked overtime the past few months to prevent it from going the way of the University of Chicago and Loyola, whose part-time faculty members voted to form unions a few months ago.

John Culbert, dean of The Theatre School and the administration’s point man on contingent faculty, acknowledged that the union push has “sped up the process” of finding ways to improve the adjunct experience at DePaul.

“I think that it is fair to say that the presence of union organizers has accelerated or put pressure on our efforts around adjunct faculty,” Culbert said. “But many of the initiatives that we’re doing now were in play before union organizers set foot on the campus.”

The university has for months stressed the benefits DePaul provides adjuncts and has recently upped its outreach efforts. Culbert and the deans of each college have hosted or will host question and answer sessions for part-time faculty.

“The goal of those is really to provide a forum for people on a college-by-college basis because adjunct faculty are based in a particular unit and they are hired by that unit and they teach there and they don’t generally engage across the university,” Culbert said.

He added that the effort helped address concerns at the college level, discuss the unionization process and the provost’s plan to increase benefits to adjuncts.

While Culbert listed several positive developments for adjuncts at DePaul over the years, such as the course cancellation policy, involving adjuncts in raise pools and improved benefits, he emphasized that there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach for adjuncts.

“There are many different types of part-time faculty and they have different needs,” Culbert said. “So when we think of adjunct faculty, it isn’t a homogenous group that has one set of goals and needs.”

“It’s very different on one end from somebody who has full-time employment elsewhere and potentially very successful at what they do and they are teaching because they have a very particular expertise that they enjoy sharing with people,” he said. “And at the other end of the equation, you have people who are putting together a full-time living from doing adjunct faculty work, either all at DePaul or at other institutions. And then there’s every possible combination in between.”

The outreach comes as the SEIU and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) continue their efforts to organize adjunct and term faculty into bargaining units. Union organizers have mailed information to professors’ homes and greeted them outside their classrooms among other methods of getting their message across.

The two unions have competing strategies, with the AFT seeking a “strength in numbers” approach of trying to get the largest bargaining unit possible, and the SEIU seeking to create smaller bargaining units at the individual college level.

For an authorization vote to take place, more than 30 percent of adjuncts in a given unit need to sign a union card.

In the meantime, the university continues to seek an internal solution to address adjunct concerns. The provost’s task force on adjuncts held their first meeting last month and is looking at the best way to create a permanent body for adjuncts to address their concerns in-house.

The two union groups could not be reached for comment.