Administration supportive, but doesn’t commit to remaining neutral
The Ithaca College administration released a statement via Intercom April 17 regarding the efforts of its part-time faculty to unionize. The statement was released on behalf of President Tom Rochon and Linda Petrosino, interim provost and vice president for educational affairs.
The statement can be found here.
Part-time faculty at Ithaca College filed a petition April 15 with the National Labor Relations Board to form a union, and will likely vote in the next three to five weeks on whether to join Adjunct Action, a project of the Service Employees International Union.
A local representative* from SEIU Local 200United confirmed that in order to file for an unionization election, only 30 percent of the part-time faculty at the college needs to support the movement. However, the representative said a majority of part-time faculty at the college have indicated their support for the unionization effort, although SEIU declined to disclose the exact percentage.
Following the filing of the petition with the NLRB to unionize, there will be a stipulated agreement on who can vote in the election to form a union. An SEIU representative said only part-time faculty at the college will be allowed to vote in the election. Following that, an election date will be set.
Part-time faculty will be mailed a ballot on the day the election is set and will have two weeks to return it. If a majority of the part-time faculty who cast a ballot in the election vote to form a union, they will join Adjunct Action.
The choice to file the petition to unionize on April 15 was not an accident; on that day, labor activists across the country participated in the “Fight for $15,” a movement primarily funded by the SEIU looking to raise worker wages to $15 an hour.
In addition to filing for a union election, five part-time faculty members met with Ithaca College’s administration to ask them to stay neutral in the unionization proceedings and allow for a fair election. The college’s part-time faculty were represented by Brody Burroughs, a lecturer in the Department of Art; Tom Schneller, a lecturer in the Whalen School of Music; Rachel Kaufman, a lecturer in the Department of Writing; and Robert Ziomkowski and Bari Doeffinger, lecturers in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures.
The part-time faculty members met with President Tom Rochon; Linda Petrosino, interim provost and vice president for educational affairs; and Nancy Pringle, vice president and counsel for the division of human and legal resources.
Following the meeting, which lasted approximately 40 minutes and took place in the Peggy Ryan Williams Center, the representatives from the part-time faculty said they were pleased with how the discussion with the administration went.
Burroughs said the meeting was productive and part-time faculty are looking forward to the election process. He said there is currently no indication the college will attempt to interfere with that process.
“We’ve benefited from a respectful treatment from the administration thus far and we expect that to continue,” Burroughs said.
The administration released a statement regarding the part-time faculty unionization efforts, saying the college supports the rights of its employees to exercise their right to file for a union election. It also stated such an election is the best way to determine whether a majority of part-time faculty wish to be represented by a union.
However, the statement stopped short of promising the college would stay neutral in the union proceedings, as it said the administration believes information on the topic of unionization needs to be made available to those voting.
“We also believe that these voters should have the opportunity to hear, and express, all viewpoints, and should also have access to relevant information before they exercise their right to vote,” the statement said. “If an election is conducted, we will support the provision of information to these employees so they can make an informed choice on this very important issue.”
Ziomkowski said while the administrators indicated the college would not interfere with the unionization election process, during the meeting they skirted around the topic of staying neutral.
“They wanted to avoid the term ‘neutrality’ because they think it’s too problematic a concept,” Ziomkowski said.
However, Ziomkowski reiterated the tenor of the meeting was positive. He said during the meeting, Rochon indicated his appreciation that part-time faculty at the college did not participate in National Adjunct Walkout Day, which occurred Feb. 25 and featured adjunct faculty across the country walking out of classrooms to demand better treatment from their employers. Ziomkowski said Rochon told the part-time faculty the fact that they did not participate in the walkout played a role in the administration’s decision not to respond when SEIU organizers came to the college to collect support from part-time faculty for unionization.
Ziomkowski said he feels a union would allow the college and part-time faculty to communicate better.
“I think that it would be a better forum than what currently exists for discussing disagreements,” he said. “ … With the union we would have more of a forum to say, ‘you know this isn’t quite fair.’”
According to a press release sent out by SEIU, part-time faculty currently teach on a course-by-course basis without any assurance of having work from semester to semester.
The SEIU press release cited that part-time faculty at the college are paid less per course than tenure-track faculty and lack health care and retirement benefits. On average, part-time faculty at the college are paid $1,300 per credit hour, or $3,900 for a three-credit course. In addition SEIU wrote in the press release that part time-faculty do not have office spaces and as a result can feel disconnected from the college community.
Through unionizing, part-time faculty at the college are seeking greater job security and pay, as well as benefits and the ability to feel connected to the college campus, which they believe would help them better serve students.
Kaufman said the union will allow the part-time faculty to be heard by the administration.
“We absolutely need a voice on campus and we need the ability to sit across … a negotiating table with the administration at a level playing field,” Kaufman said. “And we think the union will give us the ability to do that.”
She said following the filing and meeting with the administration, the next step is to continue to engage part-time faculty about the upcoming unionization election.
“We want to get as big a turnout as possible so we have the most voices represented as possible,” Kaufman said. “So we’ll just continue reaching out to people and let them know this new development and what they can expect in terms of how to vote.”
Kaufman said the current surge of interest in a part-time faculty union began about a year ago and has been greatly advanced by the help of SEIU.
“We’re all workers, we’re all professors, so we don’t know anything about unions, like the nitty gritty of the procedure and all of that, and they’ve [SEIU] really helped us understand our way through that,” Kaufman said.
In the buildup to the filing on April 15, part-time faculty have garnered support for their unionization efforts from a sizable segment of the college community, with a petition calling for the administration to remain neutral in the unionization process receiving 660 signatures.
The petition was organized by an Ithaca College branch of Students for Labor Action. A group of five students from the organization attempted to hand-deliver the petition to Rochon’s office before the meeting between the administration and the part-time faculty, but were rebuffed by a Public Safety officer who told the students to wait downstairs in the lobby. The students instead gave the petition to the part-time faculty representatives to deliver to the administration.
Sophomore Peter Zibinski, one of the students who attempted to deliver the petition, said he believes the signatures show the campus is serious about supporting the part-time faculty unionization effort.
“I think it [the petition] has a pretty big impact, maybe not in directly swaying his [Rochon’s] opinion either way, but to hold him accountable and let him know that we are in fact being vigilant and we are in fact monitoring his actions throughout this whole process,” Zibinski said.
Sophomore Joshua Kelly, chairperson of IC Progressives**, a student organization that has come out in support of part-time faculty unionization, was another of the students who attempted to deliver the petition to the administration. Kelly said forming a union for part-time faculty would be beneficial because it would give them more of a voice in their employment circumstances.
“We have to continue to work forward … to unionize so that workers can be on equal footing with their employers, so that they can continue to work doing the things that they love, so that they don’t have to work multiple jobs,” Kelly said.
Kelly, also a senator-at-large in the Ithaca College Student Government Association, sponsored a bill passed by the SGA on April 13 that strongly recommended the administration not interfere with the ability of the college’s faculty and staff to unionize.
In addition to support from the student body, part-time faculty also received endorsements from full-time faculty at the college. According to the SEIU press release, 75 tenured and tenure-track professors signed a letter expressing support for the unionization efforts of the college’s part-time faculty.
Kaufman said the support the unionization movement has received from the campus community is important to part-time professors. She also specifically mentioned the support from students on campus as being beneficial for the unionization effort.
“The student support means so much to us because a big reason we’re doing this is because we’re being treated unfairly, but also because we can feel how if we could get more resources and get paid more fairly and get more job security and all these things that we’re looking for, we would be even better teachers than we are already,” Kaufman said.
*The representative specifically asked not to be named.
**Writer is a member of IC Progressives.
Evan Popp is a freshman journalism major. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.