Non-tenure eligible faculty members at Northwestern file for union election

Tori Latham, Managing Editor

Northwestern faculty members filed for an election Thursday for the formation of a union representing non-tenure eligible faculty and alerted University officials to the union’s formation, said a faculty member involved in the process.

Psychology Prof. Marcia Grabowecky told The Daily the union would represent both full-time faculty and contingent faculty, which includes post-doctoral researchers and professors who only teach one course a year. There has been an increase in using these non-tenure line and part-time faculty members, Grabowecky said. Part-time faculty don’t get paid as much — about $4,000 per class — and they do not receive benefits, she said.

Grabowecky said the union would work to address specific issues within the current employment system. Those who work on a part-time basis have no job security or benefits, putting them in an “unstable situation,” she said. Grabowecky also said each faculty member’s situation and pay is worked out on a case-by-case basis, making it difficult to have a sense of equitable pay, both across departments and gender lines.

The union will be structured around group discussion, allowing for more clarity and transparency in the process, she said.

Faculty members filed for the election with the National Labor Relations Board, which will set a date for the election, said a representative from Service Employees International Union, which has been working with NU faculty. Non-tenure track faculty members will vote in that election to determine whether the faculty will have a union, the representative told The Daily.

The SEIU representative said there has been an increasing trend in faculty unionization in the past few years, in part due to the Faculty Forward campaign, which aims to raise standards in higher education. Non-tenured faculty at the University of Chicago voted in December to form a union, and Loyola University Chicago did the same in January.

University spokesman Al Cubbage declined to comment, saying in an email that the University had not “been served with a representation petition.”

SEIU has also been involved in Fight for 15, a national campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Grabowecky pointed out some similarities between minimum wage workers and contingent faculty who she said can teach three or four courses across universities and make only about $12,000 a year.

“You don’t consider the person teaching your class the same as the person working at McDonald’s,” she said. “But they’re really not that different.”

This story was updated June 10 at 2:30 p.m.

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