Frequently Asked Questions about Unionization of Term Faculty at American University

What is a union?

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A union is a community of co-workers who come together to make positive change in their workplace. We have the right to collectively bargain with our employer through rules and procedures set up by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and administered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Collective bargaining allows a union to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement (or union contract) on the terms and conditions of employment (working conditions, compensation, benefits, workload, advancement and so forth). The terms outlined in the contract are legally binding on the employer.

Why are we forming a union?

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How could a union contract benefit me and my colleagues?

A union contract can provide greater job security, protections against unfair discipline or dismissal, length of contracts, better working conditions, increases in compensation and improved benefits. For term faculty at AU we could negotiate over many issues including teaching load and other responsibilities; pathways to promotion; salary, benefits, leave and sabbaticals; job security and protections on renewals; multi-year appointments; and supports for research, scholarship, professional development. We can also have on-going discussion and problem-solving on our issues with the administration through a Labor-Management Collaboration Committee.

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How much are dues and when do they start?

Once Term faculty have won our union and negotiated a union contract with the AU administration and voted to accept that contract, we will then be eligible for union membership and will start paying dues, approximately $37 a month. We will only start paying dues if and when we win collective bargaining and after we negotiate and ratify a union contract. Up to that point, other dues-paying members of SEIU Local 500 are supporting our ability to organize and bargain a contract.

How will our colleagues respond?

Forming a union will probably open up robust dialogue among colleagues about how best to improve the position of Term faculty at American University. This dialogue can be constructive and informative, but doesn’t have to be contentious. We are coming together to make things better for all of us, so our discussions should include all Term faculty voices. If we are oriented to goal-setting and problem-solving this process can unite us, rather than divide us.

How will the AU administration respond to our organizing?

We expect that the tenets of collaboration and mutual respect that define the relationship between the part-time faculty union and the AU administration will be extended to the Term faculty unionizing process. Under the NLRA employers cannot intimidate or interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of their rights to organize a union. American University has shown in the past that it will accept a positive outcome of a union election and bargain in good faith with unionized employees. We anticipate that in the event of an election the AU administration will reach out to Term faculty to inform you of the process and your rights under the NLRA.

Will term faculty still be able to participate in existing university governance?

Yes. Collective bargaining and shared governance are different tracks for Term faculty to have their voices heard. Collective bargaining concentrates mostly on the terms and conditions of employment (such as salary and benefits) and not on academic issues. However, it is possible to negotiate within a union contract for greater participation and rights in shared governance for Term faculty.

Will this cause greater divisions between types of faculty?

No. In fact, unionization of the faculty is part of the effort to reverse the trend in higher education toward an increasing stratified academic job market where the majority of faculty are contingent (a large majority of instructional faculty are off the tenure track) and find themselves in lower-paid precarious positions with no prospect of advancement. Unionization of part-time, half-time, non tenure-track full-time faculty and grad students can raise standards, give faculty and grad students a voice, increase engagement in the academic community and ultimately create a disincentive for institutions of higher education to continue to disempower the majority of the academic workforce.

What is the process to form a union?

As employees in a private non-profit institution, the 2-step process to form a union is laid out by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Term faculty at AU must provide a “showing of interest” in unionization to the NLRB through signing confidential union authorization cards. 30% or more of the term faculty must sign cards in order for the NLRB to call a secret ballot election of the term faculty at AU.  The election may be held onsite or by mail ballot. Once the ballots are counted, if there are more “yes” votes than “no” votes, term faculty will then have a seat at the table with to improve pay, benefits and working conditions by negotiating a union contract.

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