Having sat on the executive councils of two different wall-to-wall (adjunct/full-time) locals affiliated with two different national unions, one of the most glaringly obvious things that I see happen, and it’s perhaps the one thing that most “radicalizes” adjuncts to the extent that they no longer see their union as a tool for change, is how adjuncts, or adjunct issues become “compartmentalized.”
Perhaps an easy way to understand this is as follows. You are an adjunct concerned about a vast array of issues which, to be honest, really makes you angry, like, “Why am I paid so much less than my full-time colleague, why do I have poor or no job security, and why do I get no benefits? ” You then take it upon yourself to go to a union meeting, expecting to get answers and hearing some kind of plan or active strategy.
When you get to the meeting though, what you hear instead are minutes, financial reports, perhaps a reference to negotiations, or some sort of union issue that seems far removed to the adjunct. Then there may or may not be the discussion of political action which seems only tangentially connected to the issue of adjuncts, like a call for a support for hotel, grocery, or healthcare workers. Often after that, and usually at the end of said meeting, there will be the “adjunct” or “part-time” report which, if given, may simply refer to an upcoming unemployment workshop. And with that, the adjunct leaves, and we may be lucky if they come to another meeting.
In fairness to the local unions, much of the stuff on a meeting agenda is what unions must deal with as they involve the whole body. Further, just walking into a single meeting without some sort of context to what the union has been/is dealing with is going to leave anyone, adjunct or no, confused. Additionally, these calls for the support of outside groups are critical down the road for the their reciprocal support of local governing board candidates, state legislators, and propositions/and initiatives which can affect institutional funding and state policy positively, and generally, the bigger the local, the more they need to “play the game.”
Further, there are also macro-issues tied to accreditation, program review, resource allocation, planning, tenure review, etc. which affect the campus as a whole, and will affect adjuncts, but not with an immediacy that many adjuncts will see.
For example, many adjuncts were angry about all the attention being given in one of my locals to the accreditation fight at the City College of San Francisco. I had to tell them that one of the reasons that City College was under assault was the accrediting board’s assertion that it paid its adjuncts too much, which was 85% of full-time pay, making it one of the most equitable institutions in the country with regard to adjunct pay.
In this regard, particularly if the other issues appear to be more immanent, the adjunct report will get de-prioritized.
But really, there are some problems here. As an adjunct rep, I am the one, in at least one of the locals, giving the dreaded “adjunct report.” Now I don’t know how many other people giving reports get “spoken to” after meetings, but I on occasion do. Sometimes, it’s generally “meant well,” but I’ll get old things like, “you don’t want to sound too angry,” or “make sure that you’re inclusive,” and I could go on.
Thing that gets me about this is that often I’m in the process of trying to talk people up into taking action, for things like Campus Equity Week, Adjunct Action Day, Union Membership Drives, Signature Campaigns, for Letters to Politicians , etc. Because these items require a high degree of participation and buy-in, in addition to being time sensitive, it’s more or less necessary that one is passionate. And by the way, not once have I ever in a general meeting called out full-timers, though I have profusely thanked them on occasion for their support. (And to be fair on this point, sometimes I’ve gotten more help from full-timers than adjuncts on these issues, adjuncts). There’s sort of this sense I get at times that when I speak, I have to be watchful for the “there he goes again . . .” look, or this unspoken suspicion that I’m suddenly going to go off on full-time faculty.
The statement that really gets me, (and it is never said to me, but is apparently said by other full-timers who will in turn talk to full-timers who talk to me) is the whine, “Why do we have to talk so much about part-time issues?”
Hmmm, I don’t know. Your local’s membership is 70%+ adjunct. Whenever there’s a loss of funding, full-timers are worried about whether or not they’ll take a salary cut or lose their COLA. They might even see their class cuts go up. For adjuncts at that point, the central concern is this—“Am I going to have a job next semester?” Oh, and there’s also that pay disparity and general job security thing, and the fact that, despite strong adjunct opposition to it, such that it can be expressed, they keep hiring fewer full-timers and more part-timers.
The fact of the matter is you don’t talk about it enough, or more importantly, don’t consider adjunctifcation for what it really is—an existential threat to tenure, full-time employment, the labor movement, and the middle class.
But now I’m going to say something a bit shocking, and seemingly contradictory. The general meeting is never going to be, in and of itself, an effective tool for engaging adjuncts.
Most adjuncts, because of the precarious nature of their work, can’t make these meetings in the first place. Second of all, the few adjuncts who do show up to meetings have a very limited understanding of how unions, particularly teachers’ unions, have to operate in dealing with management and the general public. Too many have this notion that if you just get together and demand something in force you’re going to get it, like in the movie Norma Rae. Third, adjuncts are angry at what are often wide varieties of slights, and as people who are every bit as smart and inquisitive as the full-time colleagues, they have ideas and questions as to why certain things have or haven’t been done (and too often they have to no affect, or simply can’t be done, but the adjunct doesn’t know this, or know why).
With regard to all three of these points, adjunct engagement needs to be better shaped to meet adjuncts if adjuncts are ever going to get more involved in helping themselves.
First, outside of the general meetings, there need to be times when adjuncts can simply hook up with other members of union leadership, and no, not just the adjunct rep. If you were to substitute white and black for full-time/part-time and applied that model, just how do you suppose that would come off?
Second, instead of just having adjuncts come to a big meeting, having smaller meet-ups at varying times in different locations would help. How about coffee and donuts on a Tuesday morning in an adjunct workroom, or at an off-site extension? How about a brown bag lunch? Hell, couldn’t we just get a full-timer to walk into an adjunct workroom and just hang out and talk for a few minutes about work conditions with no agenda?
Third, create smaller meetings built around one or two items specific to adjunct concerns. One meeting could simply be educational, like “What’s the negotiation process about?” Another could be “Adjunct Vent Your Spleen Day,” etc.
Now I will say in closing, that if you adjuncts out there are waiting for full-timers to have his dawn on them and come to you, you will be waiting in futility. You need to make it happen. Suggest it, then demand it. If nothing happens, then educate yourselves and get people among you to go to meetings. By the way, I’ll still be out there trying to realize each of the three proposals I just made, but I’m one person.
Create the engagement you need and deserve. It doesn’t happen without you.
A “Good” Adjunct