Push to Unionize Adjunct Faculty Gains Steam

Push to Unionize Adjunct Faculty Gains Steam
  • Opening Intro -

    Your college instructor may be qualified, capable and enthusiastic, but beneath the surface this individual may be struggling financially.

    College adjunct faculty members are used to plugging critical holes in academia, yet they often do so at wages that are far lower than what their tenured counterparts earn.


Colleges and universities make extensive use of part-time instructors to augment their faculties. Indeed, approximately one-third of the classes taught at community colleges are taught by adjunct staff. Moreover, at research universities about one in four classes are taught by adjunct workers, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Low-Cost Academic Instructors

Why do colleges and universities hire adjunct professors? To save money. By hiring as many as three adjunct faculty and you will get service equivalent to what one full-time professor provides. To illustrate, three part timers can be hired or discarded at will, while the full-time professor will eventually reach tenured status and must be paid a competitive wage, earn benefits such as health care, and be provided with an office. On the other hand, adjunct faculty are hired merely at the discretion of the school.

According to data supplied by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, postsecondary teachers earn a median salary of $68,970 per year as of 2012. Wages can vary depending on the specialty. For instance, biology teachers earned $75,740 on average in 2013 according to ONET Online, while art and drama teachers earned just $62,830 annually in the same year.

Adjunct professors may be paid $3,000 to $5,000 per class. For 10 classes taught over the entire academic year, the college’s costs may be no higher than $50,000, offering a significant savings over what is paid to tenured faculty. Even so, adjunct faculty may have to travel from campus to campus or from institution to institution just to receive an equivalent salary. That net salary comes in far lower and without the security that full-time faculty members routinely enjoy.

Union Organizing Endeavors

With adjunct faculty earning so little, the field is ripe for unionization. Indeed, the Los Angeles Times has been chronicling the unionization efforts at California colleges and universities, noting that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has been successfully organizing and is now representing thousands of adjunct faculty across the Golden State.

Adjunct faculty are not only looking for greater remuneration, but also for security in knowing when and where they will be teaching. That is to say they would like to be compensated if a class is suddenly canceled at the last minute, a move that often leaves them without work and compensation.

Faculty members want much more transparency, greater resource support and a voice in their departments. As for transparency, adjunct faculty members would like better feedback about their work, learn what is required of them to be hired back and gain a clearer understanding of working conditions. For that reason a “living wage” is often the mantra touted by union organizers as they seek to improve working conditions for supplemental faculty.

Further Organizing Efforts

Adjunct faculty members are winning the right to organize beyond California, including at Pacific Lutheran University and Seattle University in Washington where the process of organizing is advancing. Related organizing efforts at Temple University in Philadelphia, Washington University in St. Louis, and at Lesley University in Massachusetts are also in progress.

Some may dismiss adjunct organizing efforts as a ploy to augment union coffers, while offering little of substance in return. Nonetheless, such interest in unionization continues to gain steam and will most likely continue to do so as long as low pay and a lack of job security exists within academia.

See AlsoCollege Instructor Teaching Requirements


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