Frustrated by stalled contract talks, adjunct instructors rally for fair wages, predictable work schedules

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ADJUNCT INSTRUCTORS at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park, frustrated over the slow progress in contract talks, delivered a letter to Provost Dr. Larry Johnson (left) on Sept. 6 demanding fair wages and predictable work schedules. Adjunct instructors delivering the message were (from left) art teacher Brett Williams, music teacher Steven Thomas and college algebra teacher Steve Taylor. – Labor Tribune photo

Adjuncts at St. Louis Community College voted to unionize in 2015, but still don’t have a contract

By TIM ROWDEN

Editor

Frustrated over stalled contract negotiations, adjunct faculty at St. Louis Community College rallied at the school’s Forest Park campus Sept. 6, nearly two years after voting to join Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1, to demand fair wages and predictable work schedules.

The selection of the Forest Park campus was not coincidence. The college is constructing a new $32 million building dedicated to house its allied health, nursing, physical therapist assistant and occupational therapist assistant programs.

Meanwhile adjuncts are paid about $10 a credit hour.

After rallying outside the Forest Park campus’ student center the adjuncts, and students who joined the rally, delivered a letter to the school’s provost asking for the administration to prioritize workers over projects.

“I have a passion for what I do,” said Steven Thomas, who has taught music and other courses at the college for 12 years. “What I don’t know is if I’m going to keep teaching. When things get bad, you never know.”

Steve Taylor, who teaches college algebra at the Forest Park campus, Jefferson Community College and Harris-Stowe State University, says 60 to 70 percent of faculty are now adjuncts, who work for low wages, aren’t afforded office space – with regular office hours for students – and have little or no job security.

“You have students taking on higher and higher and higher levels of debt and they’re being taught mostly by teachers who can barely afford to teach.”

Taylor said he and other teachers are frustrated by how long it is taking to negotiate a first contract so they can have some job security and, hopefully, better wages.

“There’s an adjunctification of our colleges and universities,” Taylor said. “We teach the same classes the full-timers do, but we’re held to a maximum of nine credit hours with no benefits and no job security. We are by far the lowest paid individuals who work at this institution. There is truly a crisis in the classroom. When you’re depending on teaching a class to make your mortgage payment and make a living, it’s just terrifying.”

“The administrators are getting hired and getting raises,” Taylor said. “Ask the students where all their student loan money is going.”

The adjuncts were joined by St. Louis 15th Ward Alderwoman Megan Green, a former St. Louis Public Schools teacher who holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from St. Louis University and is in the process of completing a doctorate in education policy.

“The fact that too many people are not getting professorships is something we need to fix,” Green said. “We are prioritizing buildings and projects and construction over the lives of people.”

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Under pressure from administration,

Washington University graduate workers file for union election

Approximately 600 Washington University graduate workers filed for a union election Sept. 15, hoping to join fellow graduate workers at Loyola, Tufts, Brandeis and American University, who have all organized and won unions over the past six months.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 has been working with graduate workers, college and university professors throughout the Midwest to give them a voice on the job, address the low compensation for their work, and to ensure greater benefits and job security.

One day before filing for an election, graduate workers, students, faculty and community allies rallied on Washington University’s campus Sept. 14 in support all graduate workers, but in particular international students, who have recently been subjected to pressure by the university.

THREATS AND
MISINFORMATION

In response to the graduate workers’ union organizing efforts, Provost Holden Thorp recently sent out a document of “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQs) about unionization that contained misleading information about the impact of unionization on the graduate workers.

Most concerning, in light of the current political climate, was the erroneous suggestion that, in the event of a strike, international graduate student workers could lose their visa status and be subject to immediate deportation.

In fact, F-1 visa holders have the same labor rights as citizens under federal labor law, including the right to strike. The purpose of the immigration regulations is to protect workers and F-1 visa holders at work, not to give an employer a tool to retaliate against international graduate student workers who exercise their federally-protected labor rights by initiating revocation of their visa. 

A PROMISE TO PROTECT
INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS

Days after Provost Thorp sent out the FAQ, Chancellor Wrighton wrote an e-mail to the entire Washington University community regarding President Trump’s announcement on Differed Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). In that e-mail, he proclaimed his commitment to taking steps to protect students from legal action against them on the basis of their immigration status.

“We zealously protect privacy of confidential student information,” he wrote. “We will not release information about a student’s immigration or citizenship status to third parties unless required to do so by law or directive from a court.”

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