Adjunct and Part-Time Faculty Move to Unionize at Brandeis

In a move that is becoming more and more common across the U.S., last Friday, adjuncts and part-time faculty at Brandeis University in Waltham, Ma., voted 120 to 28 in favor of unionizing.

Brandeis faculty will be affiliated with the Faculty Forward union, under the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 509. In the past, SEIU has mounted successful campaigns to unionize in the healthcare and janitorial services industries and has now moved into higher education to improve conditions and benefits for adjunct faculty.

Roughly 3,200 Boston-area part-time faculty members — from Northeastern, Bentley, Lesley, Tufts, and Boston universities — are already part of the union and SEIU has established a presence in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle, among other metropolitan areas.

According to SEIU, about 80 percent of Brandeis’ adjunct faculty voted on the measure. The university reacted favorably to the news.

“We look forward to working with the SEIU to reach a collective bargaining agreement for these employees,” Interim Provost Irv Epstein said in a statement.

Brandeis writing lecturer Steve Plunkett also commended the result of the vote.

“Today, with the support of our students, colleagues, and community allies, we’ve taken a major step toward improving the teaching and learning environment at Brandeis,” Plunkett said in a statement from SEIU. “We look forward to setting new standards that reflect the university’s real commitment to social justice and academic excellence.”

Advocates for unionization say this is the only way to end the exploitation of adjuncts by colleges and universities, who make up half of all professors, according to the American Association of University Professors. Part-time faculty are sometimes paid less than a living wage to balance rising student fees, and many live in poverty, as illustrated by a video campaign by Brave New Films called “Professors in Poverty.”

Earlier this month, adjunct faculty at the University of Chicago and in New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering also voted to form unions.