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MICA adjuncts want to unionize

Adjunct faculty members at the Maryland Institute College of Art are seeking to unionize, a move that could make MICA the only four-year institution in the state where part-time faculty have established collective bargaining rights.

A group of MICA’s adjuncts filed a petition last week with the National Labor Relations Board seeking to establish a part-time faculty union with Service Employees International Union Local 500, which represents education and public service employees in Maryland and D.C.

According to the petition, the union would cover at least 200 of the part-time professors who teach at the Baltimore art and design school; it would not include full-time faculty, graduate assistants or administrators.

Joshua Smith, co-chair of the loosely organized “Part-time Faculty Committee” that is working on the issue, said the goals include greater job security and an increase in compensation. Adjuncts earn a minimum of $3,300 per class and a maximum of $5,000, according to the school’s spokeswoman, which is well below the average pay scale for full-time professors.

“At this point, every adjunct is operating semester to semester,” Smith said. “There’s a tradition of people being hired back, but there’s nothing that guarantees their contract will be renewed. A union contract would provide greater protections for part-time faculty so they wouldn’t have to worry about whether they have a job next year.”

The MICA effort is not unique; adjuncts across the country are also fighting for the right to unionize. It’s a growing movement that has risen in response to a slow and steady increase in the number of part-time professors hired by colleges and universities, both public and private.

When it comes to public universities, unionization laws vary from state to state, but Maryland’s public universities do not allow full-time or part-time faculty to unionize — with one exception.

Adjuncts at Montgomery College, a community college with three campuses in the county, ratified their first union contract, also with Local 500, in January 2010 after the General Assembly voted to allow collective bargaining there.

Montgomery College’s union has helped adjuncts secure hefty pay raises — about 6 percent this year, said William Primosch, president of the school’s part-time faculty union and a political science professor.

“It used to be that part-time professors were just a small part of the faculty,” Primosch said. “But now, we teach over 50 percent of the courses at Montgomery College, and at other community colleges it’s much higher. So we’re concerned that we teach the same courses to the same standards but our compensation is 30 to 40 percent of what full-time faculty make, and we get no benefits.”

Primosch said “a groundswell of dissatisfaction” in how adjuncts are treated has led to calls for unionization nationwide, particularly in the Washington, D.C., area.

A handful of other universities have also recently recognized adjuncts’ right to unionize, including George Washington University, Georgetown University and American University. Those victories are beginning to set a precedent for other schools, Primosch said.

“Across the country, the message being delivered is clear,” reads a notice posted on SEIU’s website attributed to the MICA adjunct faculty group. “Leaving part-time faculty without sustainable income or benefits or job security runs against the mission of any liberal arts institution: to serve its students. The status quo is unacceptable and unsustainable.”

Filing the NLRB petition kicks off a negotiating process in which MICA officials are given the opportunity to contest the terms of the agreement.

Smith, who has been a part-time art professor since 2010, said he had been anticipating that MICA officials would oppose unionization but that, so far, they have not pushed back against his group.

In an email Thursday, a school spokeswoman said MICA “has no comment at this time.”

If MICA officials agree with Local 500’s proposal for who could be eligible to be in the potential bargaining unit, the NLRB will hold an election by secret ballot for adjunct professors to determine if they want to be represented by the union. If MICA disagrees with the terms of what would constitute the bargaining unit, the union will try to negotiate an agreement, said David Rodich, the executive director of Local 500.

“In almost every previous instance, we’ve reached an agreement with the employer about what an appropriate bargaining unit should be,” Rodich said, adding the process typically takes about 45 days from start to finish. “And I’m confident that we’ll do it here, too.”