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SLU part-time faculty vote to form union

SLU part-time faculty vote to form union

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Part-time faculty working in St. Louis University’s College of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences have voted to form a union.

Out of 156 eligible voters, 89 voted in favor of forming a union, while 28 voted against.

The vote is the latest victory in a nationwide push by unions looking to represent part-time instructors, also known as adjuncts.

Unions have found Missouri, and specifically the St. Louis area, particularly ripe for their efforts.

Since 2014, adjunct faculty have voted to form unions at Washington University, St. Charles Community College and St. Louis Community College.

At the University of Missouri-Columbia, graduate assistants — students pursuing advanced degrees, who also teach courses, grade papers and conduct research — also voted recently to unionize.

Tenured faculty at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville are currently pushing for a union vote.

So far, the lone setback in the area’s unionization push came in May 2015, when adjunct faculty at Webster University voted against unionizing.

With the exception of the vote at Mizzou, the Service Employees International Union has been driving unionization efforts in the area and around the country.

Adjuncts are pushing for higher wages, access to health benefits and greater job security. On average they make less than $30,000 a year.

The vote at SLU was especially gratifying for Jameson Ramirez. Currently, he makes $3,200 per course teaching in the university’s department of sociology and anthropology.

Married and with two young children, Ramirez, 31, also teaches courses at Ranken Technical College and Greenville College in Illinois to make ends meet.

Ramirez, like other adjuncts has an advanced degree and dreams of getting a job somewhere as a full-time college professor.

The problem for many in his situation is that colleges have little incentive to offer full-time work

When they can find qualified adjuncts to teach at sharply reduced costs. Industry watchers say adjuncts now make up as much as 76 percent of the faculty teaching in U.S. colleges and universities.

For adjuncts, it means not knowing whether they will have a job beyond the current semester, and paying for health and other benefits on the private market.

“It’s a daily struggle,” Ramirez said, explaining that he drives as much as six hours per week and allots a significant chunk of his income to pay for gas.

Leonard Perez, an administrator with the National Labor Relations Board, said SLU can either accept the vote tally and begin negotiating a union contract or challenge the voting results by filing an objection within seven days.

In a message sent out to SLU faculty, staff and students Monday afternoon, university President Fred P. Pestello indicated that the school is ready to negotiate.

“Now that the ballots have been opened and counted, I anticipate that the NLRB will certify the election results shortly after Memorial Day,” he wrote. “After this occurs, SEIU-Local 1 and the University will begin the bargaining process.

“I can assure you that we will approach negotiations with SEIU-Local 1 in good faith,” he added.

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Koran Addo is a reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Related to this story

Colleges and universities rely increasingly on graduate assistants and part-time instructors to grade papers and teach classes, even while those instructors are seeing their paychecks, office accommodations and benefits shrink. It's getting to the point where instructors feel their employment rights are being abused, which is why more and more, they're unionizing — including here in St. Louis. Higher education institutions must stop balancing their budgets on the backs of their part-time faculty members.

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