Op-Ed: Good reasons why union is not a good idea
Published: Monday, September 16, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 16, 2013 02:09
A recent op-ed in the Daily (“Adjunct action: Tufts should support adjunct professors,” Sept. 11, 2013) called attention to an important decision now facing part-time lecturers within the School of Arts and Sciences: whether to unionize.
This decision affects not only the part-time lecturers but also the students they teach. We want to take this opportunity to provide further information about the upcoming election and the important role of part-time lecturers in the School of Arts and Sciences.
Tufts recognizes the right of our part-time lecturers to decide whether to unionize, and we will respect the outcome of this election. But there are good reasons why we don’t think unionization is in anyone’s best interest.
At the heart of the discussion is whether it will benefit part-time lecturers to give the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) the exclusive right to represent them in negotiating wages, benefits and working conditions as part of the collective bargaining process.
The generic information that SEIU has shared about low course rates and minimal benefits for part-time lecturers does not reflect realities at Tufts or the School of Arts and Sciences. We have worked to treat our part-time faculty with respect and concern. We demonstrate this respect by offering highly competitive per-course rates, as well as health insurance, pension contributions and many other benefits to faculty who work at least half time — which is 46 percent of our part-time lecturers.
A concrete example of this commitment is health insurance. The university contribution (between 60 and 75 percent of the premium) is the same for both half-time and full-time faculty. There is no waiting period — coverage begins on the date of hire — and benefits are available to the employee, the spouse/same-sex domestic partner and/or eligible dependents.
Tufts’ per-course rates are comparable to, and often higher than, rates at other local and national institutions — including those that are unionized — based on figures reported by SEIU and the American Association of University Professors. Most recently, we implemented a new compensation plan that increases pay for part-time lecturers as their years of service to Tufts increase and also offers bonuses for exceptional teaching. Rates can be adjusted as market rates change.
In summary, we have worked to make Tufts an employer of choice for part-time faculty. And we have done so without a union.
So, what is really at stake? The ability of faculty and the administration to deal directly with one another. Under the terms of collective bargaining, the SEIU would be certified as the only entity authorized to deal with the university on terms and conditions of employment. For example, in addition to obvious areas such as salary and benefits — which are already above average — unions may negotiate assignment and appointment procedures, including when courses are offered and who teaches them. Department chairs currently put significant thought and time into matching lecturers and courses, ensuring that the most appropriate instructor teaches each class. This flexibility, which benefits students and lecturers, could be lost if decisions had to be made under a rigid, one-size-fits-all formula. And this is only one example.
We recognize the valuable contributions of our part-time faculty to the rich academic environment at Tufts, as well as the many ways in which supporting them benefits our entire community. There is very little turnover in our part-time faculty ranks, due in large part because Tufts provides competitive course rates and benefits superior to those at other Boston-area institutions. More can always be done. We continue to evaluate what we provide to all our employees, including part-time faculty, within university budget constraints. But we believe that a collegial approach works better at Tufts than the adversarial process of collective bargaining.
The National Labor Relations Board has mailed ballots to all eligible lecturers, and we urge everyone to exercise his or her right to vote. Results will be binding on all part-time lecturers, regardless of how many votes are cast. To keep members of the Tufts community informed, we have created an information resource at as.tufts.edu/union. We also invite you to call, email or visit our offices if you’d like to talk further.