LA adjuncts organize union

by Nathanael King / Beacon Staff • October 8, 2015

Part­-t​ime faculty of Emerson’s Los Angeles center have written to President M. Lee Pelton announcing their intent to join the Affiliated Faculty of Emerson College (AFEC), a union that currently serves the school’s part-­​time faculty in Boston.

AFEC is affiliated with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), an organization that represents university faculty and other academic professionals.

David Kociemba, president of AFEC, said in an interview that they represent approximately 240 adjuncts every year. According to the union’s press release, Los Angeles part-timers sent the email to Pelton on Sept. 25.

Jennifer Vandever, a member of the Los Angeles adjunct faculty and a key organizer, said in a phone interview that 78 percent of the part-­t​ime faculty there signed authorization cards indicating interest in unionization, exceeding the 30 percent required by federal regulation if they choose to seek an election. She and four others have served as the unofficial organizational leaders.

“We're doing the same work as our colleagues in Boston and believe we should receive the same compensation and benefits," Vandever wrote in an AAUP press release.

While AFEC’s most recent contract with the college guarantees eligible part­-time faculty members 50 percent coverage of their medical plans and 100 percent coverage of their dental plans, she said that comparable faculty in Los Angeles receive no such benefits. 

Vandever said that the organizers hope that by joining a collective bargaining group, they could achieve equal compensation and treatment. She reported a current lack of transparency over salaries, benefits, and general treatment of LA adjunct faculty.

Vandever said that she originally reached out to Kociemba expressing interest in joining the union in January 2015. Kociemba said AFEC has been aware and supportive of the Los Angeles unionization effort since the very early stages.

According to Vandever, AFEC had unsuccessfully tried to merge Los Angeles part-­​time faculty into their union in negotiations with the college last spring.

“Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions...that's especially important on the Los Angeles campus, given that it’s a senior campus,” Kociemba said of the campus’ entirely upperclassmen student body. He expressed worry that seniors about to begin their careers would not receive enough attention from adjunct faculty whose time at the college could be limited by financial constraints.

Vandever said that if the college is consistently unwilling to allow the merge, the Los Angeles part­-t​ime faculty intend to hold an election, either to directly join AFEC or to form their own union.

The college released a statement saying they support the part-time and adjunct faculty members’ unionization efforts.

“We respect and support the rights of our Los Angeles-based affiliated faculty to explore whether union representation is right for them,” Carole McFall, director and assistant vice president of media relations, wrote in the statement.