Could a union be in the cards for USF's part-time teachers?
TAMPA -- Part-time faculty at the University of South Florida filed paperwork today to hold a union election, hoping to bargain for better wages, more stable contracts and health care benefits.
“The time has come,” said Patty McCabe-Remmell, who teaches professional and technical writing at USF. “We are charged with the care and the molding of students’ minds, and I take this responsibility very seriously and totally professionally. It’s only fair that we be recognized for this.”
Universities around the nation have come to rely heavily on non-tenure track, contingent faculty, who offer flexibility and expertise at fairly low costs. Meanwhile, tenure track positions have largely declined, meaning a glut of academics enter the workforce each year with few options for full-time teaching work.
In 2010, 16 percent of USF’s faculty were part-time, according to the Service Employees International Union. Now, the union says, they make up more than a quarter. (Nationwide, that number is much higher: Half of the nation's faculty work as part-time adjuncts, paid per class, often without benefits and job security.)
Now that paperwork has been filed, organizers will seek enough petition signatures to put on the election. Phone calls and emails are gathering momentum as supporters work to get the word out.
“It’s not an argument against USF,” said Rebecca Skelton, an adjunct in the USF St. Petersburg art department. “It’s the whole situation overall.”
Skelton used to teach at multiple institutions in the Tampa Bay area, stringing together a meager living.
“I was driving and teaching, driving and teaching,” she said. “My best year, I made $18,000, and I was teaching at four schools.”
She said she’d like to see fairer salaries and longer-term contracts to give adjuncts much-desired stability. Raises to help with the cost of living would also help.
“We’re hugely profitable for them and they need to share some of that,” she said.
USF officials said the pay range for an adjunct ranges from about $3,500 to $10,000, depending on the discipline and level of expertise. The university has largely bucked national trends, with the majority of its faculty still tenured or on track to be.
University spokesman Adam Freeman responded to the announcement with a statement: “Today USF was made aware that a group of part-time, adjunct professors announced their intentions to hold an election to decide whether to form a union. However, at this time the university has not had an opportunity to review the group’s filing with the Public Employees Relations Commission. Therefore, it would be premature to discuss the issue.”
University faculty and graduate teaching assistants already have unions.
Last fall, a USF official said in an interview that USF tries to give students as much access as possible to full-time faculty, even in an era of cutbacks.
"But adjuncts very much have a place in the teaching mission at USF," said Dwayne Smith, senior vice provost and dean of the office of graduate studies.
McCabe-Remmell said she considers herself lucky to make under $24,000 a year teaching eight classes in the English department.
“I’m more concerned about adjuncts who are just starting,” she said. “They often have to work delivering Jimmy John’s or something like that.”
Still, she said, she’s aging, and health care benefits are becoming more critical than ever.
Last winter, adjuncts at Hillsborough Community College overwhelmingly voted to unionize. Though 1,000 adjuncts were eligible to vote, nearly half abstained, and the final count was 339 for, 189 against.