In Oct. of 2000 an agreement between Eastern Michigan University and the EMU chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) was approved by the EMU Board of Regents in a special meeting, according to a 2001 EMU press release.
Now, nine years later, the adjunct lecturers of EMU are fighting to form their own union and obtain a similar agreement with the university.
Part-time lecturers at EMU filed for a representation election with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) in December of 2009.
These lecturers are working closely with the Eastern Michigan University Federation of Teachers (EMUFT), which already represents full-time lecturers at EMU, by forming the Adjunct Lecturers’ Organizing Committee (ALOC).
“In my time here, I have seen how EMUFT has helped the full time lecturers gain the respect and professional recognition that they deserve,” said Sonya Alvarado, acting president of EMUFT, in a recent email interview.
“I believe that the same respect and professional recognition can happen for our fellow adjunct lecturers with their inclusion in our union,” she said.
At a university where adjunct lecturers outnumber the full-time lecturers and tenured professors nearly 4:1, this unionization is vital to ALOC. As of right now, adjunct lecturers are offered no health benefits, job security and little professional respect, according to Riyadh Bahkali, Adjunct Lecturer at EMU for ten years and ALOC media spokesperson.
Ken Wachsberger, 20-year adjunct lecturer of English at EMU, is feeling the pinch brought on by the lack of a union.
He regularly taught an English course until EMU decided not to offer that course to students during this winter semester, and did not offer a substitute course, he says.
When asked what benefits adjuncts currently have, Wachsberger responded, “I share an office, that’s about it. I get parking… you know, it’s embarrassing when you think of a parking spot and an office as a benefit.”
There has been an increasing reliance on adjunct lecturers in recent years at most universities across the country, including here at EMU.
ALOC did a comparison of EMU hire dates vs. the dates on which current full time lecturers became full time and found that 96 percent of current full time lecturers have been adjuncts at EMU, before they became full time lecturers, reports Bahkali.
The campaign that has been underway at EMU to unionize the part-time lecturers, who are asking for better pay and benefits, has been waged at other universities in Michigan, like the University of Michigan, Wayne State, Western Michigan University and Michigan State University.
In all of those cases the adjuncts were able to form unions to better bargain with their respective universities, according to Greg Pratt, a union organizer from AFT Michigan.
On these and other union campuses, instructors have bargained contracts which contain improved job security and better wages and benefits, among other gains. Like the unions at those universities, the EMUFT is affiliated with AFT Michigan, the state affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. The AFT currently counts among its membership more than 45,000 non-tenure-track faculty in more than 100 local unions nationwide, according to their website, www.aft.org.
Though school officials were unavailable for comment regarding this article, EMU has warned in other articles appearing in annarbor.com that the costs suffered in providing benefits to adjunct lecturers could be passed on to students through higher tuition.
Wachsberger argues the costs of providing benefits could easily be made up in other ways.
The Adjunct Lecturers’ Organizing Committee plans to attend the EMU Board of Regents meeting at 3:45 p.m. tomorrow to address the board during the public portion of the meeting at 201 Welch Hall; students are welcome to join them.
In addition, ALOC will have info tables in Pray-Harrold (and other locations later) in the coming weeks. Students, faculty and the community at large are also invited to join the Facebook group “ALOC/EMUFT,” created by adjunct professor Paul Horvath, from the math department, for up to the minute updates.
Finally, students can support the unionization of adjuncts lecturers by writing President Martin and Provost Jack Kay.
“Our working conditions are their learning conditions,” explains Bahkali when asked why students should care about this issue.