The need for long-term job security coupled with the belief that their pay is below that of graduate student instructors’ has spurred non-tenure track faculty at the University’s three campuses to form a collective bargaining unit for lecturers and visiting and adjunct professors.

If formed, the union would be one of a few representing non-tenure track faculty across the country and second in Michigan, the first being the Eastern Michigan University Federation of Teachers.

“This is really new ground,” said Jon Curtiss, a union organizer for the Michigan Federation of Teachers, which is working with faculty members at the Flint, Dearborn and Ann Arbor campuses. “This kind of organizing is really something that has gotten off the ground in the last couple years, as universities have hired more and more of these folks.”

Union organizer Kirsten Herold, a lecturer in the English department, said she believes the union is necessary in order to give faculty members the same benefits given to graduate student instructors, as well as to add job security and increase pay.

“There are a lot of folks who are running around from two or three different campuses, spending half the day commuting, teaching five or six classes a semester and still only end up making $20,000,” Herold said. “In my department, graduate students make a thousand dollars more money to teach the same class I teach. Why? Because they have a union.”

“We are easily their cheapest labor. The University really depends on that,” she added.

Curtiss added that job security is a nationwide issue for non-tenure track faculty members, who are often hired on a semester-by-semester basis.

“They get hired year by year, semester by semester, and so they don’t know whether they will have a job. That’s the worst,” he said. “This is a career for people.”

Though talk of forming the union has been circulating for four years, the first official steps to turning the idea into a reality took place in December, when members of the Lecturers Employees Organization filed a representation petition with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission.

Union organizers and University officials met with MERC last month to discuss the membership of the bargaining unit. Another meeting between University officials and union organizers is scheduled for tomorrow.

“It really is at the early stages. We’ve met with the union once and we are going to meet with them again very shortly to talk to them about the bargaining unit,” Assistant Provost Jeffrey Frumkel said, adding that the University will cooperate with union organizers regardless of whether or not it believes a union is necessary.

“It’s not a matter of supporting or not supporting. There is a process under the law and the University will follow it,” he said.

The first question facing union organizers and the University is who should be allowed to be a part of the union. Union organizers said they believe the University’s definition of who obtains which title – adjunct professor, lecturer or visiting professor – is vague and persons falling under any of those titles should be represented by the union.

“The title of adjunct professor means different things in different departments on different campuses,” Herold said. “There are a lot of visiting professors who do not have an academic employment elsewhere … the title doesn’t mean what it should mean.”

“We are trying to iron out who should be in this group and who shouldn’t be,” she added. “Something that we hope will come out of this is that these categories will be used more carefully.”

But Frumkel said who should be a member of the bargaining unit is a matter of determining who can be represented according to Michigan laws.

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