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AURORA, NY — Contingent faculty at Wells College filed their petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) today to join Faculty Forward, a project of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 200United. Over the semester, they’ve built an overwhelming majority of support for their union and file for a union election amidst an outpouring of support from their tenured and tenure-track colleagues.

Matthew Hogan, a Visiting Lecturer in Mathematics at Wells College and a member of the union organizing committee, said, “We are excited to start a new relationship with the administration today after we have filed for our union election. So far, the administration has been respectful of our democratic right to hold a union election, and has upheld its commitment to fair labor practices by remaining neutral. Now that we have filed for our election, we expect that the administration will continue to allow this process to unfold without interference.”

Both part-time and full-time contingent faculty at Wells College currently teach on a limited-term basis without any assurance of reassignment once their short-term contracts expire. Even though they teach the same students as their tenure-track colleagues, contingent faculty are paid less per course and most lack health care or retirement benefits.

Michael Gorr, Visiting Professor of Philosophy, added, “Alone we are virtually powerless — the only real way to address our concerns of job security and equity is for us to organize together into a faculty union. As a union, we will a win a voice to enhance our working conditions and enhance our contribution to the college as a whole.”

Bell tower at Wells College. (Image: wells.edu)

Their organizing effort comes on the heels of organizing victories for contingent faculty at Ithaca College and throughout the Capital District at The College of Saint Rose, Schenectady County Community College, and Siena College, and victories at Burlington, Saint Michael’s, and Champlain Colleges, all in Burlington, Vermont. Most recently, part-time and full-time non-tenure-track faculty at the University of Chicago voted overwhelmingly to form a union with SEIU.  

At Wells, Kip Opperman, a lecturer in American Sign Language who teaches at both Ithaca and Wells Colleges, said, “I’m excited to help grow this movement at Wells College. At Ithaca College, I’ve seen first hand the support and voice a union provides to contingent faculty and I’m excited to move forward to win here, as well.”

The majority, 24 out of 33, tenured and tenure-track faculty at Wells College have signed a letter expressing their support for their contingent faculty colleagues’ organizing effort. Kent Klitgaard, Professor of Economics, added his support, saying,  “Wells College needs to do better by the professional faculty members who are the reason students attend college here. Wells needs to start by improving the salaries and job security for our contingent faculty.  A contingent faculty union will bring a voice, and a voice brings greater consistency. The college will benefit when the highly professional contingent faculty members have a  voice at the table.”

Faculty Forward is a project of SEIU. Nationwide, over 23,000 contingent faculty have joined SEIU, from Tufts University in Boston to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. to Mills College in the San Francisco Bay Area. In New York, contingent faculty at Ithaca College voted overwhelmingly to join SEIU Local 200United earlier this year and are currently negotiating their first contract. SEIU Local 200United represents 1,200 contingent faculty members across Upstate New York and Vermont.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.