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Nearly 300 Duke Adjunct Faculty Vote For SEIU Union Representation -The Duke Action Follows A Wave Of Adjunct Unionization Around The U.S., But It’s Rare In The South

Published Sunday, March 20, 2016
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(DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA) – Late last week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced that a majority of Duke Adjunct Faculty Members who cast ballots in the recent election voted in favor of representation by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).  Of the 203 ballots cast, 174 voted in favor of the Union and 29 voted against Union Representation.

Once the results are certified by the NLRB, the SEIU will become the representative for the nearly 300 Non-Regular Rank Faculty within Trinity College for Arts & Sciences, the Center for Documentary Studies, and the Graduate School.

The Union excludes all regular rank and tenure track faculty.

“While we are disappointed not to be able to continue working more directly with our colleagues, we are glad that together we made some advances this past year that will impact many of our Adjunct Faculty,” Duke Provost Sally Kornbluth said. “We remain committed to their success as members of our faculty and contributors to Duke’s academic mission.”

Duke officials said they would begin to work with representatives for the Union on a Collective Bargaining Agreement.  “While the process is underway, we expect most aspects of our working relationship with the members of the bargaining unit to remain status quo,” Duke Vice President for Administration Kyle Cavanaugh said.

In February, Duke University Adjunct Faculty Members filed a petition with the NLRB to hold an election on whether to Unionize.  The petition showing at least 30% of Employees in the group supported the effort.  

For months, a group called Duke Teaching First discussed the idea of a Union to improve pay, benefits and job security for Part-Time and Non-Tenure Track Faculty.

“I just feel as though it’s a ‘historic moment,’” said M.J. Sharp, who teaches photography at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies. “We ‘just can’t let it keep going along like this.’”

Sharp, who has taught at Duke for three years, said she feels supported by her colleagues, but many others “aren’t in such a good position.”  She said the growing Non-Tenure Track Faculty across the nation constitute a “massive, permanent underclass.”  “Academia has been trying to ‘solve itself’ for twenty years, and nothing really happens,” she said. “For those of us who’ve been watching, we know that ‘more good intentions will get us nowhere.’”

The action at Duke follows a wave of Adjunct Unionization around the United States, but it is rare in the South.  At dozens of universities – the University of Chicago, Tufts and Georgetown, among others – faculty have voted to join SEIU in the past three years.

SEIU also has launched a campaign to advocate for adjuncts to receive $15,000 per course, well above what many now make.

As the Duke campaign gained steam, the administration launched a web site warning about tactics of Union Organizers. “You are ‘your own best representative,’” the site said.

The communication from the administration is intended “to confuse and dissuade,” said Chris Shreve, an instructor at Duke.  Shreve has taught at Duke for 12 years and holds two degrees from the university.  He now teaches lab sections for a large biology course that is offered every semester – something that’s given him some predictability in his income.  He said there has been steady support from Tenured and Tenure Track Colleagues.

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