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The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

6 Ways to Cultivate Labor Peace With Adjunct Faculty

cultivating-blogNearly every higher education institution in the U.S. employs adjunct faculty; and at many colleges and universities, these off-the-tenure-track professors make up the majority of the teaching faculty. These employees are a vital part of the higher ed workforce, contributing in myriad ways to institutions’ teaching and learning goals.

But with the rise in the number of adjuncts across the country also comes a push by unions to organize them. In fact, the Service Employees International Union’s Adjunct Action project has resulted in union campaigns in 10 states, with adjuncts at 20 universities having already voted to organize.

So how can institutions lessen the likelihood that adjunct faculty will feel the need to collectively bargain? In the article “Cultivating Labor Peace With Adjunct Faculty” (which appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of CUPA-HR’s The Higher Education Workplace magazine), counsels Carmen Plaza de Jennings and Jayne Benz Chipman of the San Francisco office of Hirschfeld Kraemer LLP offer six tips to help institutions maintain adjunct labor peace.

  • Get to know your institution’s adjunct faculty. Develop an understanding of the individuals comprising this contingent of your faculty. While each institution may do this differently, the types of information to gather at a minimum include name, date of hire, classes taught for the institution (including years, credit hours and compensation), annual earnings and benefits, and employee grievances and the topics of those grievances.
  • Take the pulse of your adjunct faculty. Proactively gather information from key administrators, deans and department chairs regarding current workplace issues, employee grievances, operational needs and efficiencies, and potential political landmines that all too often are not evident from the more passive review of paper and data alone. Also, obtain input from the adjuncts themselves. Only by truly getting to know and understand the precise nature of the issues beyond general complaints regarding compensation, benefits and job security, will you be able to take steps to address issues that, if left unaddressed, could push employees to organize.
  • Assess/update existing policies and practices. Well-written policies have the benefit of providing clear guidance and stability on key issues in the employer-employee relationship, something that is frequently a goal of collective bargaining. Some examples of policies that are of interest to adjuncts include standards for adjunct contract appointment, renewal, evaluation, reemployment preference and dismissal; course assignment process; non-classroom expectations; and professional development support and opportunities.
  • Gain an outside perspective. It is essential to ascertain how your college or university compares to similar institutions in terms of adjunct compensation, benefits, contract renewal, professional support, participation in shared governance, and other issues of importance to this segment of your workforce.
  • Learn from labor organizations. A tremendous amount of valuable information about adjunct issues can be gleaned from labor organizations themselves, by reviewing labor organization websites and conducting a simple Internet search.
  • Align adjunct interests with management. Taking steps to more fully align adjuncts with management by increasing integration into the institution’s shared governance will increase their sense of investment in the institution. The more fully integrated with the institution and management adjunct faculty become, the less likely it may be that they will seek union representation.

As Plaza de Jennings and Benz Chipman state in their article, the best time to secure labor peace is before your employees seek representation by a labor organization. By being proactive and opening the lines of communication, institutions stand a better chance of fostering respect and mutually beneficial relationships with this important segment of their workforce.

To hear the latest developments around labor law governing faculty organizing, join us on February 26 for the webinar “Will Your Faculty Be Unionized? The NLRB Opens the Door.” To read a case study of how HR at one university partnered with academic affairs to improve the hiring process for faculty (both tenure-track and adjuncts), see The Higher Ed Workplace blog post Talent Management for Faculty: Where Does HR Fit In? And for additional resources related to both adjunct and tenure-track faculty, see the toolkits under Academic HR in the CUPA-HR Knowledge Center.

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  • etragedy

    Or, you know… pay them a living wage.