What Can Unions Do for Contingent Faculty?


The percentage of tenured faculty in U.S. colleges and universities is rapidly declining – from 57% in 1975 to 31% in 2007.  In 2009, for the first time ever, part-time academic faculty positions exceeded full-time nationwide We see this trend at UIUC where the ranks of those titled ““lecturer,” “instructor”, “adjunct”, “clinical associate professor,” “research assistant professor,” etc. are growing.  These faculty (often called contingent faculty) do much of the same work as tenured faculty  but frequently have inferior pay, working conditions, benefits and job security.

Perhaps the worst thing about the situation of contingent faculty is that they are often isolated and feel powerless.  The Campus Faculty Association (CFA) wants to organize a union at UIUC, and we believe the issues of contingent faculty are at the heart of any drive for collective bargaining. We are committed to building unity among all faculty, regardless of their contractual status. Our unity is our strength.

Contingent Faculty at Other Campuses: Unions Can Help

We believe a union can help address many of the specific issues of contingent faculty. Here are some examples from other campuses of how contingent faculty have benefited from a union contract on other campuses:

1. Compensation:

Unions have been very successful in increasing compensation for contingent faculty.  This has been accomplished by setting minimum salaries for full-time contingent faculty (e.g., at Northern Illinois University), and by offering contingent faculty the same “standard” pay increases as tenured and tenure-track faculty (e.g. in the California State University system).

2. Benefits.

– Unions have secured benefits for contingent faculty. For example, at the University of Massachusetts, Boston Campus, contingent faculty qualify for full benefits from day one if they teach three courses in a semester. If they teach less than three courses, they access benefits after a year.

3.. Job Security:

Unions have helped contingent faculty win longer contracts.  At the University of Connecticut and in the California State University system, faculty who have worked for six consecutive years are entitled to three-year contracts.  At the three campuses of the University of Michigan, contingent faculty who have successfully passed through a four-year probationary period, automatically receive a three-year contract with “presumption of renewal” under ordinary circumstances, along with additional pay and benefits.  Contracts of this type normally prohibit employers from terminating faculty simply for the purpose of avoiding extended contracts.

At the very least, union contracts set standard procedures for appointing, reviewing, renewing, and terminating contingent faculty, thus providing greater transparency for all involved.  And union contracts normally require specific lengths of notice before termination or non-renewal.

4. Seniority Rights:

–Unions have successfully bargained for seniority rights. For example, the contract at University of Massachusetts Boston  gives more more experienced teachers the right of first refusal when teaching assignments are made.

–In the University of California system, more senior lecturers are protected against losing part or all of their appointments to lower paid lecturers purely for money-saving reasons.  The UC has a Lecturer with Security of Employment rank for long-term lecturers.

–At City University of New York (CUNY), lecturers who have taught continuously for six years are eligible for a certificate of continuous employment (CCE), which entitles them to a more complete review process and access to all “regular” faculty benefits and retirement programs.
5. Voice in the Workplace:

–Unions have won representation for contingent faculty in crucial university bodies Unions have negotiated the inclusion of contingent faculty representatives on academic senate committees addressing issues related to contingent faculty.

6. Professional Development:   

Unions have won access to funding for professional development. Many community colleges offer their contingent faculty access to special funds and programming aimed at continuing education and professional development.  This is less common on university campuses, but at CUNY, contingent faculty bargained for and won access to such funds.

7. Respect and access to resources

Unions can also bargain for less tangible, but still important “dignity” and resource issues, such as access to technological support for teaching and research, the same mailboxes as tenured/tenure-track faculty, inclusion in departmental email lists, etc.

Are Contingent Faculty Eligible to Join a Faculty Union?

According to existing Illinois labor law, any faculty member with an appointment of .51 time or more can become part of an academic faculty union’s bargaining unit.  That means that the particular issues of contingent faculty can become part of what is negotiated with the administration. The gains noted above at other institutions have typically been won through this process. However, in some states, contingent faculty by law, must have a separate union.  But this does not preclude the possibility of joint bargaining sessions with all faculty (tenured and contingent) on one side and the employer on the other.

Join Us In Our Drive to Unionize UIUC

Contact CFA: www.cfaillinois.org