Part-time faculty begin efforts to unionize

The efforts to unionize USC adjunct and part-time faculty intensified on Monday as advocating members made their plans to organize public.

Currently, a group of non-tenured faculty are fighting for higher pay-per-course, greater job stability and ultimately, the formation of a union.

“We are in the midst of a crisis in higher education,” wrote the faculty members on their newly formed website “A new model has evolved in higher education that relies on a large workforce of contingent faculty, who are marginalized in our academic communities, with no guarantees to academic freedom, teaching under substandard conditions and with inadequate compensation.”

Whispers of such an effort began early in the spring semester, and interim Vice Provost Michael Quick issued a letter to faculty in late February discouraging such actions. He stressed that unionization would be a damaging choice for USC.

“A big concern of mine is that our collegial processes would be eclipsed by an industrial model of labor relations: an adversarial model,” he wrote. “We at USC have a strong system of faculty governance, which emphatically includes non-tenure-track faculty.”

On Monday, however, non-tenured faculty began publicly circulating a petition advocating for the university community’s support in their efforts to unionize. The document read that the signers agree to “hold USC accountable” and support non-tenure track faculty in their unionization efforts.

The online petition had just over 60 signatures as of Monday night.

The movement at USC is being mounted by the Service Employees International Union through their Faculty Forward campaign, a national “grass roots” awareness effort meant to highlight the conditions of part-time faculty. The movement is advocating nationally for $15,000 per course for adjuncts.

Adjunct faculty currently make roughly $5,000 per course they teach a semester. Some adjuncts claim these are not livable wages.

“USC really provides a space for intellectual development and for education, but apart from that, the conditions of work have been very difficult,” said Noura Wedell, an adjunct faculty member in the Roski School of Art and Design.

Wedell spoke Tuesday night at a public forum discussing better wages for Los Angeles workers. The event highlighted the efforts of USC part-time faculty to unionize. The panel was held at Exposition Park in the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas.

Those in attendance — many of whom were minimum wage workers — were encouraged to sign the aforementioned petition.  Members of the USC group, the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, were also present and have expressed their support of unionization efforts.

“Our learning conditions are your working conditions, so this is very important to us,” said SCALE member Maria Rodriguez to faculty members present at the forum.

In addition to adjunct faculty, some non-tenure track professors have also expressed efforts to unionize. Jamal Ali, an associate professor (teaching) of Arabic who has taught at USC for three years, cited the unpredictably of his teaching position as a motivating factor to join unionization efforts.

“I have a contract which is renewable or nonrenewable at the whim of administration,” Ali said. “It’s a little better than an adjunct, but we’re part of the union movement as well.”

USC did not immediately respond to requests for comment in light of Monday’s events.

The part-time faculty’s efforts come just weeks after the university came to an agreement with USC Hospitality workers earlier this month, who were similarly fighting for higher wages and longer hours through a local union. The university agreed to a 75 cent raise from their current $11 wage.

Part-time faculty are now gearing up for a similar fight.

“I am considering changing careers,” Wedell said.  “And the organizing and unionizing we’re doing is the only thing that can change my mind about that.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect the proper name for the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation. A previous version referred to them as the Student Organization Against Labor Exploitation.

it has also been updated to note that Jamal Ali is an associate professor (teaching), not an associate professor as previously stated.

The Daily Trojan regrets this error. 

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