By Samantha Higgins
The Scene staff
Adjuncts at Forest Park and other St. Louis Community College campuses may unionize with the Service Employees International Union.
Local SEIU representatives and an organizing committee of STLCC adjuncts (part-time faculty members) have been distributing literature and talking to other adjuncts in an effort to gain support.
An election could be held as early as late October, said committee member Richard Newman, an adjunct for 15 years at colleges and universities in the St. Louis region.
Newman began teaching English at STLCC’s Meramec campus this semester. He formerly taught at STLCC’s Florissant Valley campus, University of Missouri-St. Louis and St. Louis College of Pharmacy.
Newman’s main issues are job security and higher pay. He said adjuncts aren’t always told what classes they are teaching until the first day of the semester, leaving them little time to prepare.
“We’re not asking for tenure,” Newman said. “We are just asking for some idea of what we are teaching semester to semester.” In regard to pay, he added, “I know for a fact that there are adjuncts on food stamps.”
Newman has been teaching since 2004 at Washington University, whose adjuncts voted to unionize with SEIU earlier this year. The vote was 138 to 111, according to the Student Life student newspaper.
Today, Newman serves on the university’s adjunct union bargaining committee. “We are currently negotiating for fair contracts,” he said.
STLCC campuses employ 420 full-time and 632 part-time faculty members, according to Dan Kimack, executive director of marketing and communications. The former are unionized with the Federation of Professionals Unit, Local 6320.
The STLCC adjunct organizing committee needs 200 adjuncts to sign cards of support for an election to be held. At press time, SEIU representatives declined to comment on whether that number had been reached.
The STLCC Board of Trustees voted in September to allow adjuncts and SEIU representatives to conduct organizing efforts on its campuses. The administration doesn’t seem to be fighting them.
“By St. Louis Community College core policy, we recognize (the adjuncts’) right to organize and fully respect that right,” Kimack said on Oct. 22.
The Service Employee International Union has 2 million members across the country. It’s working to help adjuncts organize through Adjunct Action, one of its national campaigns.
The STLCC adjunct unionizing effort began in September of 2014, when adjuncts began attending board meetings, accompanied by SEIU representatives.
In August, SEIU representatives manned tables in hallways outside the Forest Park cafeteria before, during and after an adjunct training session. They distributed literature about Adjunct Action.
“As adjunct faculty, too often we are isolated from one another while we are struggling under the very same conditions — no job security, little respect, low pay and no access to benefits, office space or basic facilities to support our students,” one of the handouts stated.
STLCC adjuncts recently received a mass email from Janessa Hall, an adjunct who teaches psychology at Flo Valley. She said unionizing could lead to better pay and benefits, job security and professional equality.
“I love my job,” she wrote. “My students are amazing people, and I have been happy to be their instructor. That being said, there are parts of the job I feel could be improved, and that is why I am encouraging you to vote for union representation.”
Earlier this year, SEIU representatives worked with adjuncts trying to unionize at Webster University in St. Louis. The effort failed by a vote of 268 to 212, according to the Webster Journal.
The newspaper reported that Webster’s administration actively fought the unionizing effort and stated that “Unionization would have no benefit because adjuncts are treated as valuable members of Webster.”