Union Update: Getting to ZERO.

Friends, as many of you know, last spring I helped organize the adjunct (part-time) faculty at Hamline University. Last June (exactly one year ago), we voted overwhelmingly–about 77% “yes”–to form a union. In August I was elected our first steward. Since the past fall I’ve been part of the bargaining team negotiating for a first contract.

It’s been a long slow crawl. Between complicated scheduling and the administration’s insistence on settling (at least by way of “tentative agreement”) the multitude of non-economic issues in the contract, it’s taken us nine months to reach the day when they put their first economic proposal on the table. That’s the subject of the “Union Stew” steward message that appears below.

First, a bit of context. Over the past decade the compensation for adjunct faculty at Hamline has gone unchanged. It varies a wee bit from school to school and by discipline, but while costs around us rise, pay has been flat. In my case, that means $4000/course for ten years running. It means my compensation has lost 20% of its buying power as it has fallen behind the cost of living. It means I’ve taken an effective pay cut of $800/course.

During that same time, tuition at Hamline has increased by 50%, and the president’s pay has jumped (in the same ten year period) from around $290,000/year to around $560,000/year. That’s right, her pay has practically doubled to more than half-a-million dollars, while no money has been available to give adjuncts even a cost of living increase. In fact, when President Hanson announced her decision to retire last spring, the chair of the Board of Trustree lauded her by saying, “The university is in good financial condition—under President Hanson’s leadership, over $70M has been raised and our endowment has grown to over $90M, an all time high.” But not a penny was set aside to increase adjunct pay.

Perhaps it’s no wonder we voted to form a union. Now you’re ready to read my most recent message:

The Union Stew #7 – June 17, 2015

David Weiss, Steward for Hamline Adjunct Faculty Union, SEIU Local 284

Dear Hamline Colleagues –

Another brief but urgent update follows. Please read this all the way to the end!

I need to say two things up front, and I need you to hear them both. First, right now I am angry to the point of outrage. Second, I am not done. I hope by the end of this message you can join me in both of these declarations.

Today, with some hard choices over the last handful of phrases at issue, we tentatively concluded our non-economic bargaining. “Tentatively” because all agreements are tentative until the whole package is complete. But having signed off on about two-dozen non-economic articles, the administration finally put their economic proposal on the table today during the last twenty minutes of our bargaining session.

Bargaining, by its very nature, includes the ebb and flow of many small moments of disappointment and frustration, offset by often equally small moments of surprise and elation. Progress, step by step. Today I experienced something new: embarrassment. For Hamline.

I love this school.

It’s been my privilege to teach more than 500 students here over the past decade. And to contribute to Hamline’s rich academic community, both by attending lectures, plays, and music events, and also by bringing several national and international activists to Hamline for events myself. It’s been my joy to work as a colleague alongside Hamline’s many committed faculty and staff, as well as my adjunct peers.

I love Hamline. Not least because it lays claim to a mission, vision, and values that include things like “collaborative community,” “social justice,” “civic responsibility,” and “making a lasting difference in the world.”

All of this is why, today, when the administration set their opening economic proposal on the table I felt embarrassment for this university.

It is “just” their opening proposal. Things will not end here. But they have staked out a beginning place so completely disconnected from their stated principles that I—who have a notorious soft spot for being charitable in my words—find it difficult to name this anything other than betrayal. A betrayal of both of the mission, vision, and values of the university, and also of anything resembling a posture of integrity, towards the teaching mission of Hamline.

I’ve taught here for a decade now—at $4000/course since Fall Term 2005. The purchasing power of that $4000 has dropped by $800 over the last ten years. And this is the opening economic offer made by Hamline today after nine months of negotiating: to leave salary compensation exactly where it has been for ten years. They have the temerity to tell us that we are all worth about $800/course less than we were a decade ago. (Fine print full disclosure: after a $200 “bonus,” those adjuncts who have terminal degrees in their field will be worth only about $600 less per course, and those currently compensated above that base rate will not lose their current salaries.)

Carol Nieters, our SEIU negotiator exclaimed in disbelief, “After a decade of no increase in pay, you’re going to propose leaving salaries where they currently are?!” I added, “Honestly, after nine months of working to build trust and common understanding this feels like a slap in the face.” Their response was to say they believe their proposal is “competitively fair” and “in line with the market” in this area. But let me add, none of the administrators in the room made eye contact with us while these words were uttered.

So, right now I am outraged. But I am not done. This first proposal is not where we will end up, but it does reveal how little respect the administration actually has for us. And we will need to alter that. And by “we,” I mean all of you, and your students, and Hamline alumni and parents, and anyone who is concerned for the future of higher education in our communities. Please sit up and take notice. We need you to help Hamline see the gap between their actions at the bargaining table and the ideals they claim. One way is to sign the petition of support. Another is to share this message or the link to the petition with your family, friends, and others who will be supportive. Share it widely! If we can show Hamline a groundswell of support for a bargaining posture that actually reflects their aspirations and values, it may give them the inspiration they need to act from the ideals they claim.

We became a union because alone, we cannot begin to challenge injustice like this. But together, we can—and we will—make a lasting difference in the world … beginning right here at Hamline.

I continue to be yours, in service—tonight: angry, outraged, and just getting warmed up.


David Weiss (drw59mn@gmail.com) is steward for Hamline University’s Adjunct Faculty Union, SEIU Local 284.


Interested in my earlier blog posts on our union efforts? Here they are:
May 2014: When Words Fail Us
May 2014: Those Darned Socks
June 2014: Open Letter to My Colleagues
January 2015: Bargaining for Justice

One thought on “Union Update: Getting to ZERO.

  1. There is always the chance of a sudden, unexpected shortage of professors come August…….I wonder if the school has a contingency for this.

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