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If adjunct professors at MICA decide to unionize, they would be the first to do so at a four-year institution in the state. (File photo)

Union vote set for MICA adjuncts

Part-time faculty at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore will begin voting next week on whether they want to form a union.

The union election will begin Thursday, when the National Labor Relations Board will mail secret ballots to MICA’s part-time faculty — between 300 and 350 people — who will then have the opportunity to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ NLRB officials will tally the votes on April 29.

If a majority of votes cast are in favor of unionization, the group will become represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 500, which represents education and public-service employees in the region.

If that happens, MICA would become the first four-year institution in the state where part-time faculty are unionized. Montgomery College, a community college, is the only higher education institution in Maryland with such a union.

Part-timers at a handful of schools in other states, however, have exercised their collective bargaining rights, and the movement has been picking up steam across the country.

“We’re hopeful this will work out,” said Joshua Smith, co-chair of the Part Time Faculty Committee, which is coordinating the effort. “The word on the street has been positive. There’s been very few voices that are unsure or don’t like the idea of organized labor. I think people recognize that there’s room for improvement.”

Smith said the primary goals are enhanced job security and an increase in compensation. Adjunct professors at MICA earn a minimum of $3,300 per class and a maximum of $5,000, which is well below the average pay scale for full-time professors. Adjuncts also have no guarantee they’ll be rehired from one semester to the next.

To initiate the unionization effort, SEIU Local 500 submitted a petition to the NLRB on March 7 on behalf of 200 adjuncts. Smith said that’s the number of active adjuncts at MICA, although a school spokeswoman said there are about 450 adjuncts on record.

Since then, Smith said, the bargaining unit has been expanded to include more than 100 part-time employees in MICA’s School for Professional and Continuing Studies, which offers after-school youth programs, summer classes for students and various adult-education courses.

On March 19, MICA’s outgoing president, Fred Lazarus IV, sent a letter to the campus community urging adjuncts to vote against the union until they’ve had more time to ponder the decision.

“It is hard to imagine that any of us would have willingly put a decision of this magnitude on this timetable or at this time of year,” Lazarus wrote in the email. “… Indeed, simpler issues facing the College were studied for months, and sometimes years, before a final decision was reached.”

Those comments did not sit well with some part-time faculty.

“Any attempt to delay this process does a disservice to the part-time faculty, because the majority of us want change, and that’s what the union would bring,” Smith said. “I just don’t think waiting another year is going to help any part-time faculty member who may not even know if they’re teaching next year.”

Smith also said he has “no personal animosity toward the administration” but that, after nearly three years of unsuccessful attempts to negotiate directly he’s convinced unionization is the only way to give part-time faculty a voice.

“We understand the administration has to make business decisions … but because there aren’t any consequences for not making these changes, they probably felt they didn’t have to. And because there’s no formal process for bringing people to the table, it’s very easy to kick the can down the road.”

MICA spokeswoman Jessica Weglein Goldstein said the administration has no further comment about any developments in the unionization process and reiterated a statement she made after Lazarus’ comments went public.

“MICA has a tradition of inclusive, deliberative decision-making,” Weglein wrote in an email. “We feel that it is very important that all affected parties are well-informed and participate in such an important conversation. As it develops, the most important question will center on whether or not everyone who should be has been adequately informed and fairly engaged in the process.”

To that end, the Part Time Faculty Committee has recently ramped up its outreach efforts.

The group launched a website over the weekend and on Thursday night hosted a meet-up at Liam Flynn’s Ale House for part-time employees to meet committee members, learn more about the process of unionizing and interact with their peers.

“We love our jobs, we love teaching,” Smith said. “But if we can make positive changes in the lives of part-time faculty, we’re willing to do what it takes.”