Thursday, May 15, 2008

Part-time Faculty Union at Wayne State University Wins Contract

Part-timers at Wayne State win contract

By Bryan G. Pfeifer
Published May 11, 2008 10:54 PM

The Union of Part-Time Faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit made history April 30, when the union won a tentative agreement with the administration after an all-night marathon bargaining session.

The UPTF is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and is one of the largest stand alone, part-time faculty units in the United States.

“The UPTF thanks all of our labor-community-student allies who have and continue to stand in solidarity with our union. We won our contract because of this support in tandem with our membership mobilization,” said Amanda Hiber, UPTF communications committee chair and part-time faculty in the English department at WSU.

Contract details will be finalized the week of May 4, followed by a vote for union membership ratification. The tentative agreement must be affirmatively voted on by the board of governors at WSU, the governing body for the university. Once both happen the contract will be legally binding.

The UPTF win came just days after graduate assistants in the Graduate Employee Organization—AFT union at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor won significant gains after a one-day walkout; and Graduate Employees Union—AFT at Michigan State won a contract just minutes before walking out in late April.

Bargaining between the UPTF and the WSU administration began November 2007. After a multifaceted first contract campaign that included demonstrations, members packing the bargaining room, a nationwide letter/postcard campaign, media work and numerous other tactics, the union won critical job security language, wage increases and grievance/arbitration rights, among other gains. An administration-union committee will discuss benefits.

Before members formed their union, the 900 part-time faculty members at WSU were paid below-subsistence wages, had no benefits whatsoever and were classified as “at-will” employees. Thus the fight to win a first contract was and is fundamentally about dignity and respect.

The UPTF win at Wayne State is part of a burgeoning movement in recent years of unionization for both graduate teaching assistants and part-time faculty at private and public universities nationwide. These workers are unionizing in response to university administrators’ hiring of multiple part-time faculty at low pay, no benefits and little professional needs provided, such as office space, in place of full-time tenured professors.

Furthermore, administrators are increasingly giving away millions in public taxpayer dollars to corporations, using universities for corporate welfare at the expense of poor and working people like those at WSU, a campus of 33,000 with a majority Black student population. This is happening at the same time that tuition, fees and student loan interest rates are rising astronomically, student loans are being denied to poor and working class students, and the war in Iraq is sucking billions out of educational and other human needs.

Those unionizing at campuses nationwide are not only fighting to improve their standard of living but are participating in an epic struggle to make universities responsive to the needs of the poor and working people who fund these critical institutions—and make them run. As in the UPTF, every day more campus workers are standing up, fighting back and declaring, “The university is ours and it works because we do!”

Bryan G. Pfeifer is the staff organizer for the Union of Part-Time Faculty—AFT,

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