Adjunct negotiations stall

Adjunct professors at PSU have been working without a union contract since it expired at the end of June. Since April 2003, the Portland State University Faculty Association (PSUFA) Local 3571 and the administration have been engaged in negotiations at the bargaining table.

On Oct. 6, due to an impasse between the PSUFA and the administration, negations stopped and mediation was requested. The two bodies are expected to meet back at the bargaining table the first week of November, with the mediator.

Soft-spoken Brook Jacobson, PSUFA’s chief spokesperson, said the negations have “gone very slowly, partly because of legislative and funding problems with the state.”

Part-time professors, or adjuncts, are not allowed by the university to teach more than five classes or 20 credits per year. Working below half-time excludes them from health care benefits, PERS and pay equality with full-time professors. Full-time professors make at least $30,000 more annually than part-time professors.

Michael Driscoll, the Vice Provost for Acedemic Personal and Budget has been responsible bargening with the PSUFA.Commenting on the disparity, Driscoll said, “we certainly want all of our employees to be paid for the work they do.”

The PSUFA has refrained from talking of pay increases, following a trend among public employee unions during the economic downturn.At the start of the 2002 winter term, salaries were increased 5 percent. Driscoll cited the legislature as not having authorized pay increases for public educators

The lowest salary adjuncts could receive, working nine months out of the year, was $27,000. In September 2002, another 5 percent pay increase was obtained. These gains were won under the previous contract, commenced July 1, 2001.

“In view of the fact that most state workers aren’t receiving pay increases” Jacobson said, the PSUFA is pursuing “a secure plan for increasing job security.”

Full-time tenured professors receive multiple-term contracts, a base salary of $57,051, health care and offices. Part-time professors lack a health-care plan, work from term to term without a multiple-term contract, receive less pay per credit hour taught, and don’t have office space. Without office space, adjuncts find it hard to meet with students, receive mail and function on campus as a professor.

“People at PSU working 20 years are hired term by term. They (adjuncts) never know if the next term they’ll be working,” Jacobson explained. Driscoll said the university is “working to get multiple term contracts, whenever that is appropriate.”

Jacobson continued to describe the problems created for everyone by adjuncts’ single-term contracts, saying “this is a concern for part-time professors, students and the administration … when faculty doesn’t know until two weeks before to prepare a plan” for their classes.

Numbers of adjuncts are often forced to juggle their time around between institutions. This unstable workplace condition, Jacobson said, “doesn’t allow them to do the good job they’d like to.”

The PSUFA engaged the administration in asking for orientation for new professors and won its demand. Jacobson described it as a major success at the bargaining table. A subcommittee consisting of two PSUFA members and two human resource people has created an orientation plan for new professors, to be instituted in fall of 2004.

New adjuncts “will receive orientation letters with their letters of appointment, telling them where their office, keys and mailbox are,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson commented that “human resources have been very cooperative in arranging for an orientation for adjunct faculty.”

The PSUFA represents 600 adjuncts in any given term. During the week of Oct. 27-31, the PSUFA will be involved in Campus Equity Week.

Jacobson says the PSUFA is “concerned with the … pay and benefits inequality between regular employees and part-time employees.”

Returning to the bargaining table in the first week of November, Jacobson said she “hopes for some progress on the issue’s we’ve identified with fairness.”