So it begins: the ballots have been mailed out by the PLRB, and soon all the adjuncts at Temple University will get a chance to vote on whether they want to join TAUP, the union that represents the rest of the university’s faculty. Over the last few weeks, Temple’s administration has been in a tizzy, conducting a campaign of fear-mongering and misinformation that would be ridiculous if it weren’t so intense: four, sometimes five emails a night from semi-anonymous listservs that appear to have been created only yesterday, for the express purpose of shouting down the rest of the conversation.
The tone of these emails has been very odd: a combination of paternalism – we’ve been so good to you – fear – this union is going to hurt our relationship – and aggression – we won’t so good to you if the union wins. One could be forgiven for imagining the administration as a controlling boyfriend who knows they’ve done wrong, sending desperate emails at all hours.
It is abundantly clear by now that the administration is afraid of a union. It’s afraid for many reasons, none of which have to do with the well-being of adjuncts. They’re afraid that a union will help adjuncts bargain for higher wages, as they have in other universities. They’re afraid of having to provide health benefits. Most of all, however, they’re afraid of a union because a union would mean adjuncts would receive an actual contract – they are afraid of losing their flexibility, which for us means that we can be terminated at any time, without redress or even explanation.
Make no mistake: when Temple suggests that we vote no to “keep our options open,” they want us to maintain the status quo – and that status quo has been ruinous.
In the last year that I’ve spent organizing, I’ve heard so many stories from other adjuncts. Stories about having classes dropped for no reason, three days before the semester began: five thousand dollars of income suddenly lost. Stories about inadvertently offending a department head, and having them pull classes in retaliation. Stories of being refused necessary supplies to teach, of being assigned offices with no computer or working lights, of being denied library access. Stories of disrespect, but also stories of having our livelihoods threatened, semester after semester, with no possibility of redress.
Before this election, administration witnesses testified before the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board that they do not consider adjuncts to be members of the Temple faculty. This was a troubling statement, considering that adjuncts make up half of Temple’s professoriate, but it was not particularly surprising. Adjuncts have known for a long time that the administration does not respect or value us. Instead, they have used our cheap labor to streamline costs. New facilities, growing administrative salaries, massive advertising budgets – all these things have been built by paying us less than we’re worth and replacing us if we demand better.
Now, for the first time, we have an opportunity for change. Not utopian change – at least, not at first – but clear improvements. Full year appointments. Cancellation fees, so that the administration is forced to provide us with some financial compensation if our classes are cancelled due to under-enrollment. A chance for redress if we are subjected to unfair hiring and firing practices. Best of all, a seat at the table in contract negotiations – so that our working conditions are not decided unilaterally by a group of administrators most of us have never even spoken to.
These are the reasons I’m voting yes. I’m sure you have your own, to add to the list.
All those emails you’ve been getting from the administration over the last few weeks are full of false concern. I could go through them, point by point – the way they try to raise issues about joining a union with the full-timers, when this merged union is required by the PLRB, and when these sorts of unions work well, time after time, in university after university – but why should I, when they’re nothing but distractions?
The administration doesn’t care about these technicalities; they’re grasping at straws, looking for any trick to keep you from voting union, because they know as well as I do that a union will force them to modify the exploitative structure that has helped them maximize profits while keeping its adjuncts underpaid, insecure, and unempowered.
But there can be no distraction from the stark choice at the heart of this vote.
A “no” vote is a vote for the status quo, in which adjuncts are disempowered and disrespected, treated not as faculty but as interchangeable units of labor,
While a “yes” vote is a vote for agency: a seat at the table, a modicum of stability, and a chance to define the role of adjuncts as a crucial part of what makes this university run in the first place.
I’m voting yes, and I think you should too. And, unlike the administration, I reply to emails! So if you want to know more, if you have any questions, or if you’d just like to have a conversation, please feel free to email me.
Together we’re going to win this thing! VOTE YES!
Adjunct Professor, English Department