The 3,000 adjunct professors at New York University began a strike-authorization vote Sept. 26 as they demand large pay increases to bring their salaries up to a living wage.
Part-time faculty members generally earn the minimum salary of $6,260 a semester for each four-credit lecture course they teach. The university’s contract with their union, Adjuncts Come Together-United Auto Workers Local 7902 (where this reporter is an intern), expired Aug. 30, but has been extended twice for 30 days each.
“We hope to avoid a strike, but that depends on NYU getting serious in bargaining,” the union’s bargaining committee said in a message to members Sept. 19. “We have yet to see meaningful movement on the issues that matter most to adjuncts: pay, reappointment rights, pay for training and other duties and health insurance.”
The vote will continue through Oct. 7. If a strike is authorized, it will give the bargaining committee the power to call one when they deem one necessary.
The union was formed in 2002 in response to the lack of job security, healthcare access, and fair compensation. It now also represents adjuncts at The New School nearby.
The issues remain much the same 20 years later. Adjuncts, who are estimated to make up close to half of U.S. college faculty, generally work on one-year contracts, frequently need to take assignments from multiple universities to make rent and often do not receive health benefits.
The NYU union is demanding a four-year deal with 10% pay increases each year, according to its contract campaign website. The university administration argued that the adjuncts should accept a 4% raise because that’s what full-time faculty members are getting, although full-time professors’ base salaries are far higher. On Sept. 14, NYU increased its offer to a 6.5% raise in the contract’s first year. ACT-UAW 7902 President Zoe Carey said that would make a difference of “roughly $9” per contact hour but would still fail to keep up with the rate of inflation.
The union also wants all adjuncts to be eligible for health insurance after one semester and to have stronger and clearer rights to be reappointed.
In a university-wide memorandum sent out on June 9, the administration said its 4% pay increase for full-time faculty “reflects concerns expressed by faculty — with which we empathize — about the need to ensure the competitiveness of NYU’s faculty salaries.” It also recommended another increase for non-unionized administrators and staff.
ACT-UAW 7902 has also sought COVID-19 compensation, as adjunct faculty continued to work and support the university through the pandemic. But the June 9 memorandum said that only non-bargaining unit faculty and administrators would be eligible for bonuses of $2,000 to $5,000.
“There has to be an understanding of part-time workers as legitimate workers who need benefits,” says NYU unit chair Cate Fallon, a Tisch School of the Arts instructor.
NYU boasts that it raised a record $988 million in funds in fiscal year 2021. The university’s endowment now stands at $5.8 billion, $1.1 billion more than last year. It is also one of the largest owners of private property in New York City. NYU recently purchased a 10-story building for its Downtown Brooklyn campus for $122 million, and it expects its 735,000 square-foot arts, residence, sports and classroom complex at 181 Mercer St. to open in the spring.
ACT-UAW 7902 President Carey, who teaches at The New School, says that while both universities’ administrations “are very difficult and very anti-union,” NYU is on a whole other level.
“They mask it as incompetence,” she says. “But it’s just union-busting, anti-union behavior all the time. So they slow-walk our grievances, they take forever to respond to our emails when we make information requests, and what they end up sending to us is incomplete, incomprehensible, super-disorganized or not what we asked for.”
The university’s 2,200 graduate student workers, however, won a 30% raise, better health coverage and paid parental leave in a three-week strike by the Graduate Student Organizing Council last May.
“We need to unionize all the academic workers across all disciplines,” Carey asserts. “The more labor presence, the more collective action we can take across our different sectors, the stronger we’re going to be.”
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