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Adjunct union vote called off at Macalester

  • Article by: Maura Lerner
  • Star Tribune
  • June 2, 2014 - 9:38 PM

A union election for adjunct professors at Macalester College was abruptly called off Monday, a day before the ballots were to be mailed out.

In a campus e-mail, union organizers said they reluctantly decided to postpone the election because “it has become clear that many on both sides of the issue believe more time is necessary to consider this decision.”

Macalester was one of two St. Paul colleges, along with Hamline University, that were scheduled to begin voting this week on a union for adjunct faculty, mainly part-time or temporary instructors without tenure. Hamline’s vote is expected to continue as planned, union officials say. Last week, adjuncts at the University of St. Thomas filed their own petition for a union vote.

The adjuncts at Macalester were the first in Minnesota to file for a union election as part of a nationwide campaign called Adjunct Action, an offshoot of the Service Employees International Union.

The announcement in April that they were seeking a union vote was met with widespread cheers at a campus rally that drew both faculty and students. Supporters said they need a union because adjuncts, unlike tenured professors, are typically low-paid and receive few benefits.

But since then, some dissenting voices have surfaced among adjunct instructors, some of whom have taught at Macalester, full or part time, for years.

On May 13, seven adjunct professors published a letter in the student newspaper, Mac Weekly, urging their colleagues to vote no. “We still lack a clear understanding of what it would mean to have a union represent us,” they wrote. And they argued that the vote was being rushed. “We have not been given compelling reasons to jump so quickly onto that ship without having exhausted other options first.”

SooJin Pate, one of the union organizers, said the decision to postpone the vote did not mean the campaign is over. “It puts the election on pause,” she said. “As we were speaking to people, it became very clear that people wanted more time to talk.”

Initially, she said, the organizers expected the vote to take place in the fall, and were surprised when federal officials scheduled it for this month. The vote was to have been conducted by mail between June 3 and June 17.

If the vote had gone ahead, it probably “would have been close,” said Pate, who has taught American studies at Macalester for several years. “We just need more time.”

Pate said she is not returning in the fall, because her teaching contract was not renewed. That kind of job insecurity plagues adjunct instructors, she said, and it’s one of the reasons she began the unionizing drive — and has decided to leave teaching. “I’ve been doing this for six years, and I’m tired of not knowing if I’m going to have health insurance next year,” she said. “It’s just not sustainable.”

Macalester officials have opposed the unionizing drive, saying it would “not help the faculty” and “not assist our students in any way.”

Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384

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