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Adjunct Union Updates Series: The Union Side of It

By Murrows Boys

It was back in February of 2015 when 108 Bentley University adjuncts voted in favor of unionizing. Joining a movement of several other colleges and universities in the New England area that had already done the same, Bentley’s adjunct union currently stands without an official contract in place, despite seemingly reasonable and fair demands. As the group of individuals in support of such changes continues to grow, including an increasing presence of both Bentley staff and students, union officials are hoping that a breakthrough in negotiating efforts is close at hand. Although multiple meetings between union representatives and the Bentley administration have taken place since the creation of the union, with additional meetings already scheduled well into the following academic semester, disagreements on compensation increases, benefits entitlements, and employment incentives have repeatedly stalled progress in the formation of a working settlement. Yet with the offers presented by union leaders, among them by Bentley Faculty Senate adjunct representative, Joan Atlas, a closer look into the specific requests set forth by the union body reveal a sensible and valid call for better adjunct treatment.

The central focus of the union goals begins with compensation. At the present moment, adjunct professors are paid $5,000 per course and are limited to instructing two courses per semester. At the maximum level, adjuncts are capped at earning $20,000 per academic year without access to any form of subsidized benefits, a perk that many other Bentley part-time employees are entitled to. At that rate of income, adjuncts receive roughly $4,000 less than the established federal poverty level for a family of four ($24,250). Not to mention the fact that courses may be cancelled at any time before the beginning of the semester if it fails to meet adequate enrollment, leaving such professors out $5,000 with no promise of reimbursement and minimal opportunity to find work elsewhere. This was exactly the case for Economics professor, Charles Saccardo, a twenty-one year Bentley veteran and member of the adjunct negotiating committee who lost one of his regularly held economics sections due to insufficient student sign-ups. In spite of having twenty-one years of Bentley teaching experience under his belt, Saccardo came away with one less course for the semester, a serious hit to the already tight income that Bentley provides him and other adjuncts with.

“I’m going to have to take $5,000 out this semester just to meet my commitments. And that really has been a sore spot for me,” Saccardo commented in an interview on December 5th. Other adjuncts feel very much the same way surrounding the apparent inaction by Bentley counterparts to recognize adjunct seniority, regardless of the fact that adjuncts teach nearly 30% of all undergraduate courses and are expected to deliver the same quality of learning as all other full-time employees.

The union proposal for compensation increases is not a ridiculous demand either. At a steady wage increase of $1,000 per course, with an added 10% bonus for professors with six semesters’ or more experience, union leaders are calling for a $6,000 base compensation for adjunct faculty beginning in the spring 2016 semester, with increases of $1,000 increments into the spring of 2018. The $1,000 increase in year one represents a 20% raise in base pay per course, but in actuality reflects a figure that is still less than what the union argues is mathematically equivalent to the work that they do. In other words, take a look at the following: the added five minutes to each course meeting as a result of the newly modified schedule, or 6.7% increase in class time, sums to a 14.9% total increase in expected teacher effort per course, given the anticipated plan of 28 meetings throughout the semester—valued at $745 of pay.

At a typical combined tax rate of 20% on the $1,000 raise and union dues of 1.5% on the $6,000 gross pay, $1,035 is the resulting amount, $35 more than the union’s own request. In overview, union representatives explain that such modest wage increases would take a mere one-third of one percent of Bentley’s annual revenue from just simple tuition and fees in the first year of implementation. In the third year of the proposal, one percent, or simply, “Just a penny on the dollar,” would be subtracted, according to Joan Atlas. For a group that hasn’t received a raise in three consecutive years, as opposed to the rest of the entire Bentley faculty and staff, it appears that the proposed increase in pay is not only deserved but also long overdue.

In response to the October 28th proposal, Bentley administration counteroffered by proposing a raise of $75 for arts and sciences adjuncts and $375 for business adjuncts – a rather uncooperative answer to the adjunct union’s seemingly reasonable request. One of the main concerns on the administration’s mind was that the resulting faculty raise would force them to also raise student tuition.

However, tuition has consistently increased for years now, but adjunct compensation has remained the same. Compared to the planned $80 million dollar expenditure on renovations to Jennison Hall and the construction of a new campus hockey arena, which are both necessary projects, asking for 1% of what the school receives in tuition and fees per year is, “A drop in the bucket,” says union organizer, Heather Cushman, of the Massachusetts Union for Human Service Workers & Educators. Overall, such an increase would not be powerful enough to elicit a dramatic change in the amount Bentley must charge for tuition.

On top of compensatory changes, Bentley adjuncts have also requested entitlement to benefits that many other fellow Bentley part-timers presently enjoy. Included are insurance coverages, retirement eligibilities, tuition remissions, and flexible spending accounts. The administration’s response was a rejection of any increased access to benefits.

“It’s become a difficult process, and the administration does not seem to be open to making significant change for what is 40% of the faculty – a faculty that does a huge amount of the teaching of introductory courses as well,” Joan Atlas further added.

For a school that is known for taking a leadership role in issues such as business ethics and corporate citizenship, it would rationally follow that Bentley would reciprocate its words with fair and equal treatment of its adjunct faculty. As it seems right now, such is not the case. With a growing base of supporters, including a particularly encouraging voice from Bentley’s own tenured faculty, agreement on a working deal could appear sooner rather than later. Until then, union representatives remain hard at work to gain what they believe are respectable changes in adjunct faculty policy.”

 

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