Despite strong objection from administration officials, more than 900 adjunct professors of the University of South Florida (USF) have won the right to vote on unionization later this month.
“When we come together and keep fighting, we win,” said Tara Blackwell, a USF adjunct professor of cellular and molecular biology. “The administration took every opportunity to delay our right to vote, but we kept speaking out for our rights and let them know we wouldn’t be silenced.”
Adjunct professors consider the vote for collective bargaining rights a significant victory. Over the past few years, they have held protest rallies on USF campuses in both Tampa and St. Petersburg, complaining about the low pay as part of the job.
Adjuncts in the USF system earn $2,750 to $10,000 per course per semester, depending on the individual and subject area. They also don’t get sick days, are subject to course load changes semester-to-semester and have little opportunity for advancement.
Nationwide, 31 percent of part-time faculty live near or below the poverty line, according to 2015 data. At 27 percent, Florida falls slightly below the national average. As a result, adjuncts from USF Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses began their campaign to unionize a year ago.
Now that they have an opportunity to vote, USF will become the third group of adjuncts to hold a union election in Florida over the past year and a half.
In December, Broward College voted overwhelmingly to unionize. At 1,700 potential members, it is to date the largest SEIU faculty unit. In late 2016, Hillsborough Community College sparked the movement when adjuncts voted for union representation for around 1,000 professors.
“We’re standing together to transform higher education in Florida,” said Mark Lane-Holbert, am USF adjunct professor. “We’re starting on our own campuses and taking this fight to Tallahassee to win the funding we deserve for all faculty so that our students can get the education they deserve.”
Among those showing support for USF adjunct professors is Tampa Democratic Rep. Sean Shaw.
“USF dedicated only 30% of its expenses to instruction in 2015, this is the second lowest in the State University system,” Shaw wrote to the Adjunct Faculty last week.” We can do better.”
“The University of South Florida System values adjunct faculty members for their contributions to the success of our students,” said USF public affairs manager Adam Freeman in a statement.
But statement continued with a warning:
“However, we do not believe that a union will effectively support adjunct faculty or enhance student success because a one-size-fits-all contract for these employees could lead to less qualified adjuncts teaching classes. Such a contract could also reduce the ability for the university to hire adjunct faculty and could cause a reduction in course offerings to students.
“The salaries of USF System adjuncts are intended to provide supplemental, not primary, income until a permanent position can be obtained. In many cases, USF adjunct faculty members have full-time employment elsewhere, including in clinical and professional settings.
“These talented individuals with real-life experience bring a unique perspective to the classroom that our students may not be able to benefit from if a union is formed.
“As there has been some discussion around this point, I would also like to share that adjunct faculty teach approximately 12.9 percent of courses offered by the USF System and 10.1 percent of courses offered at USF Tampa (as of Fall 2017).”
The Public Employee Relations Commission will administer the vote, which will run February 16 to March 13.