Frequently Asked Questions: Forming a Union at McDaniel for Adjunct Faculty

Q. Why are adjuncts at McDaniel College organizing a union? 

A. We adjuncts at McDaniel College lack a unified voice.

Adjunct faculty across our region and nationally have been organizing in response to inequitable treatment on campus, as well as to the national trend toward the extensive use of contingent faculty by institutions of higher education. Over 50 percent of instructional faculty in institutions of higher education are now part-time. Despite the fact that adjuncts may have experience, qualifications, and scholarship equivalent to full-time faculty - and are held to the same standards - we face inferior working conditions, disproportionately low compensation and lack of benefits, and marginalization from the academic community.

In our area, adjuncts at The George Washington University, Montgomery College, American University, Georgetown University, Howard University, the University of the District of Columbia, Trinity Washington University, and Maryland Institute College of Art (Baltimore) have joined the SEIU Local 500 Coalition of Academic Labor. (This includes 80 percent of the adjuncts teaching in Washington, DC 4-year institutions).

Q. What do we have to gain by organizing a union?

A. By organizing a union we can negotiate better working conditions, higher rates of compensation, better job security, better access to services and support, access to benefits and gain a platform from which to address our concerns. Any issue to do with our terms and conditions of employment can be negotiated. Also, by forming a union with the SEIU Local 500 Coalition of Academic Labor we will be joining with other adjuncts and contingent faculty in a national movement to improve the way adjuncts are viewed and treated.  Just a sampling of the victories that adjuncts have won in our region include:

-Assurances on reappointment that give adjuncts more security in their positions.
-Professional / research development funds for adjuncts to cover attendance at conferences for presentations and other costs. At institutions which have instituted a union, adjunct faculty may apply for up to $600 per person per academic year for this purpose.
-A course cancellation fee is available for adjunct faculty if their course is cancelled at the last minute (within 21 days of the new semester).
-Supports for teaching are mandated in the contracts, including access to computer / printer, administrative support and reimbursement for course-related expenses, etc.
-Broader and more transparent evaluation process.
-For more details on what adjuncts have won on these and other issues at schools in our region, click here.

Q. McDaniel doesn't have the budget of many of the other colleges/universities in the DC-MD-VA area. Won't a union and increased wages bankrupt McDaniel?

A. Bargaining a union contract is about priorities, and those priorities will be set by the adjuncts at McDaniel. We love teaching and are dedicated to our students and to the mission of McDaniel College. Many of the most important gains we can make through unionization do not cost the College anything and would benefit our students – such as assurances on being re-appointed, fairer teaching evaluations and more inclusion in the academic community. When it comes to compensation and benefits, we will bargain responsibly over what funding is available. There is no gain for anyone – teachers, students, or the community – in making demands that stress an institution’s ability to function. In difficult economic times, however, having a union is also a way to protect what we have.  

Q.What is the union, and what are the union's goals?  

A. We McDaniel adjuncts are the union! Adjuncts will set the agenda, both in terms of what is in a union contract and how we proceed with our ongoing relationship with McDaniel as a unionized group of adjunct faculty. Our contracts will be negotiated by a team made up of McDaniel adjuncts with some help from union staff. We will also design and implement a governance structure where McDaniel adjuncts will be elected to union leadership positions at McDaniel. We will also begin to take part in SEIU Local 500 union groups and activities, including the Baltimore/MD Metro-strategy council of the SEIU Local 500 Coalition of Academic Labor – a group made up of adjunct faculty leaders from unionized institutions in Maryland.

Q. How can a union support my teaching?  

A. A union can help support your research, scholarship and other professional goals through professional development funds, and by ensuring access to professional development opportunities offered by your institution. Union contracts can mandate access to office space, computers, printing, and reimbursements for classroom expenses and fieldtrips, access to library resources and databases. Unionized adjuncts can maintain high classroom standards because of improved job security, fair evaluations and access to academic freedom.

Q. How much will union dues cost?

A. SEIU Local 500 is a member-run and member-funded organization. The resources needed to represent and organize adjuncts, build a regional strategy council, and engage in higher education reform issues come from member dues. Based on the current dues rates for other institutions, union dues at McDaniel will most likely be $36 a month - $18 per pay period. You only pay during the months when you are teaching and receiving a paycheck. No one pays any dues until a first union contract is ratified, and you are enjoying its protections and improvements.

Q. I'm new at McDaniel. I don't want to rock the boat. / I support the union but I wouldn’t want to be at the forefront of the movement.

A.This boat is already rocking!  At McDaniel, the concerns of full-time faculty, administrative staff, and other staff are often adjuncts’ concerns. Last spring, students began a movement for transparency and democratic participation in decision-making at McDaniel. We are part of that movement.

Non-unionized adjuncts are at a considerable disadvantage compared to those who are unionized. You can be dismissed at any time for no reason with no recourse, you have no guarantee of being reappointed to a course, and you have no say whatsoever in your working conditions or adjunct faculty issues on campus. Not rocking the boat is not going to change this – coming together with your colleagues and forming a union can. We need all hands on deck, whether you are an adjunct with many years of teaching experience at McDaniel, or a newcomer. We can share our experiences, build a strong union, and win a contract that accurately reflects the importance of our contributions to the McDaniel community.  

Q. Can McDaniel fire me for participating in union organizing?

A. It is against the law for an employer to take any action against an employee for organizing or attempting to organize a union. SEIU Local 500 will help you pursue legal action, at no cost to you, if your contract isn't renewed and you suspect it’s because of your organizing with SEIU. In the other colleges that organized with SEIU Local 500, adjuncts have found that being open and visible about union activity provides the best protection. Prominent institutions of higher education are in the public eye and do not want to be accused of targeting faculty for union activity.

Q. What is the process to form a union? Will forming a union be a divisive process?

A. The process of forming a union is a democratic one governed by law through the National Labor Relations Board. Adjuncts must file a petition with the NLRB showing there is interest at McDaniel in having a union. The petition is totally confidential. The NLRB then carries out a secret ballot election for the adjuncts at McDaniel where all get to vote for or against representation by the union. This does not have to be a divisive process.  By coming together we are attempting to improve our working conditions and therefore the quality of education we can give to our students – something that the majority of adjuncts should be able to get behind.

Q. Will this cause strife with the administration?

A. Adjuncts are central to the mission of McDaniel, the college couldn’t operate without us. We represent about half the faculty here and offer students a wide range of “real-world” expertise. In organizing a union the goal is to achieve a productive, collaborative relationship with the administration where we can address our issues as a stake-holding group and members of the McDaniel community. Adjuncts who have unionized with SEIU Local 500 at George Washington University, Montgomery College, American University and Georgetown University enjoy on-going positive problem-solving relationships with their administrations.

Q. Who should I contact for more information?

A. To reach the organizing committee, please email mcdaniel.adjunct.union@gmail.com or contact any of us listed below:

The McDaniel Adjunct Organizing Committee

Charles Collyer, Graduate and Professional Studies 

collyer.charles@gmail.com, 401-258-9834

Julia Lau, Political Science,

julia.lau.minli@gmail.com, 202-557-8960

Adam Schneider, Philosophy and Social Work

adamfschneider@gmail.com, 410-215-8319

Bob Seidel, Philosophy,

bobseidel@aol.com, 410-591-3266

Pamela Zappardino, Graduate & Professional Studies and others,

paxwarthhog@aol.com, 410-259-2204

mcdaniel.adjunct.union@gmail.com