Background and Context for the IC Contingent Faculty Union

Your friendly, nonpartisan guide to the faculty union and the vote to extend labor action

By The Ithaca College Chronicle

What was the final count?

Of those who voted in both faculty unions, part-time contingent and full-time contingent, 88 percent voted in favor of labor action authorization.

Were votes cast on paper or electronically?

Votes were cast on paper.

Who counted the votes?

The contingent faculty bargaining committee and the organizer from the Service Employees International United (SEIU) Local 200 Union.

Was there separate voting for part-time and full-time faculty?

Yes. Both groups have been individually granted labor authorization due to the outcomes of the two individual votes.

What does the vote authorize?

The vote grants the contingent faculty unions to take actions up to and including a strike. This may also include public demonstrations in the weeks to come.

The union bargaining committee will meet with the administrative bargaining team on Feb. 21 and 24, after which a strike will occur if the administration does not make “substantive change” to meet the demands of the contingent faculty union.

What is a “contingent” faculty position?

The positions of adjuncts, lecturers and instructors were traditionally meant to be filled by experts in a field with other, more dependable sources of income. Their contracts sustain their position for a semester, or a few, after a full-time tenured or tenure-track professor leave for sabbatical or retirement.

Ithaca College, along with many institutions comparable in size, has gradually begun to use contingent faculty positions as a means of responding to the ebb and flow of student enrollment. Adjuncts, lecturers and instructors are classified as “contingent” because the reinstatement of their contracts depend upon tuition revenue from student enrollment for the administration to allocate funds to that department.

Part-time contingent faculty formed their union during the fall 2015 semester; full-time contingent faculty formed their union during the spring 2016 semester. Although the two groups had to register separately with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), for all negotiations, they act as a single unit.

How much do contingent faculty make in salary?

Part-time contingent faculty are restricted to teaching no more than 12 credits per semester. At $1,400 per credit, part-time contingent faculty can make no more than $16,800 in annual salary.

Full-time contingent faculty pay varies with a base-line at $48,000 per year for a 24 credit course load. Because they are required to fulfill other institutional requirements, most full-time contingent faculty make more than this in annual salary.

Although contingent faculty are said to be in poverty as a result of these low wages, the distinction of poverty is defined both by annual income and by household members, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. An annual income of $16,800 per year only qualifies as below the poverty line if the individual provides for three or more people.

What does the “strike vote” authorize?

The vote to authorize labor action on Feb. 13 and 14 authorizes multiple types of protests against the administration, the most extreme of which is the abstention from working. The college community can expect to see public demonstrations from both the faculty union and the on-campus activist group, IC Students for Labor Action (SLA).

Demonstrations will lead up to another negotiation session between the faculty union’s bargaining team and the administration’s on Feb. 21 and 24, Students for Labor Action (SLA) member Taylor Ford said. If administrators do not make what union members consider a substantive change to their wages, the union will strike, contingent faculty member Tom Schneller said.

What is left to discuss?

Annual salary and contract terms are the only two issues left to discuss in bargaining sessions between the faculty union and administrators after settling 89 percent of goals. These two issues have been tossed back and forth across the bargaining table since a Sept. 6 teach-in.

However, Taylor Ford said the 89 percent figure is misleading, because salary job security is at the very core of the need to form a union in the first place.

Part-time contingent faculty members demand “parity” with full-time contingent faculty members. Expressed by the union’s mantra “equal pay for equal work”, achieving “parity” would raise part-time contingent faculty payment to $24,000 per year, half of the base-line pay of $48,000 per year made by their full-time contingent counterparts. This is because the maximum number of credits part-time contingent faculty can teach is 12, half of the maximum credit hours taught by their full-time contingent counterparts.  

How is the community aligned?

The most vocal members of the college community — Students for Labor Action (SLA) and a vast constituency of faculty in School of Humanities and Sciences — support the union’s efforts.

As for the vote to authorize the strike, 11 of the college’s departments have come out in support of the union by publishing open letters —  Psychology; Jewish Studies; Center for the Study of Culture, Race and Ethnicity; Art; Women’s and Gender Studies; Health Promotion and Physical Education; Anthropology; Politics; Sociology; Modern Languages and Literatures; and Writing.

SLA led the campaign to garner these open letters from academic departments beginning with the Department of Writing, where there are 19 contingent faculty members.

The union has maintained that the conditions contingent faculty members are subjected to — excessive stress and loss of sleep — impinge on their ability to be good mentors and educators for their students. With the largest sum of money coming from student fees, including tuition, room and board, Ford argues students have the most bargaining clout with the administration.

“That means if [students] demand something, it will be taken seriously,” Ford said at an October 2016 teach-in.

With no activism speaking on behalf of the administrative bargaining team, the Office of Human Resources has published six public statements on its behalf.

For the contingent faculty who have voted against the union’s right to strike, Ford said they have had every right to do so.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m encouraging them, though,” Ford said. “They should show solidarity with other contingent faculty members.”

What can the IC community expect in the future?

In an attempt to further pressure the administration, Ford notified Nancy Pringle, vice president of human and legal resources, during a meeting late last week that SLA will alert admitted students during open house days tothe struggles of contingent faculty if the administration does not make “substantive change” to their working conditions. According to Ford, Pringle responded by saying that she supports SLA’s right to free speech but was displeased with their threat to negatively impact the college’s reputation.

After developing close relationships with faculty union members, Ford said he could not abandon the cause after he graduates. Because several SLA members are underclassmen, Ford ensured continued support for the college’s contingent faculty members as well as grassroots pressure against the administration to meet their demands.

 Clarification: The 88 percent of contingent faculty who voted in favor of the motion only constitutes those who voted. No information about the total number of voters has been made public.

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