I’m happy to report that part-time faculty at the New School recently won major gains in their new contract after taking to the streets and engaging in a powerful strike. Their story inspires us all, and their victory is part of a larger struggle that’s taking place all over the country.
Adjunct faculty now comprise a very large segment of educators who work at universities and colleges, which think they can cut costs by hiring part-time faculty. Schools are also skimping on benefits because of an erroneous belief that part-time faculty can achieve benefits elsewhere through other employment. As a result, many contingent part-time faculty do not have meaningful job security, pension benefits, health insurance or other protections enjoyed by their full-time counterparts. Many have not even been able to form unions, and therefore do not have a collective bargaining relationship with their employer. This disparity has recently been tackled head-on by the United Auto Workers, which represents a vast amount of adjunct faculty. (Despite its name, the UAW has pivoted to organizing all kinds of workers, not just auto workers. The UAW represents at least some of the faculty at Mannes School of Music, NYU, the New School and more.)
The UAW has been remarkably successful in achieving huge improvements in working conditions for adjunct faculty, sometimes by using strikes or the threat of strikes. For example, the union achieved landmark increases for part-time faculty at NYU after 95 percent of its faculty voted in favor of striking. Part-time faculty there will now receive compensation for out-of-class preparation time, employer-provided health benefit contributions, bonuses for faculty who worked during the pandemic, and increases that almost double compensation over a six-year term.
Likewise, faculty represented by the UAW engaged in a series of strikes across the ten campuses of the University of California system. The strikes may have worked: it appears that the university and the UAW have reached a tentative agreement with the assistance of a mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, the same government agency that helped settle the New School strike. (The FMCS will also be working with Local 802 in its negotiations with DCINY.)
University of California teaching assistants and graduate student researchers won multi-year pay increases, childcare reimbursements, paid dependent access to university health care, and enhanced paid family leave. A similar agreement was reached for postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers. Nonetheless, 15 members of the UAW bargaining committee voted against the tentative deals and there is opposition among some of the bargaining unit members. The fate of these agreements is unknown at the time of this writing.
Closer to home, the part-time faculty at the New School represented by another UAW local (called ACT-UAW Local 7902) went on strike in November after the university did not accede to its bargaining demands. Almost 90 percent of the teaching staff are adjunct faculty. The strike continued even after the New School presented the UAW with a “last, best, and final offer,” which the school could have legally implemented if there had been a valid impasse in negotiations. That offer was resoundingly rejected by roughly 95 percent of the bargaining unit, and the New School agreed to mediation. But even during mediation, the employer kept up its pressure. It indicated that it would stop paying faculty and also tried to undermine the strike by making alternative arrangements for teaching and grading.
After 25 days of striking, the faculty prevailed. On Dec. 10, the UAW announced that it had finally reached a tentative agreement that includes substantial increases in salaries, compensation for out-of-class preparation time, and enhancements to job security, retirement, health and tuition. (As of now, faculty are voting on the agreement. The union is posting updates on its Instagram page here.)
It’s not just the UAW who represents workers at the New School. Local 802 represents the part-time faculty who teach in its School of Jazz and Contemporary Music. Our jazz instructors supported the New School faculty by refusing to cross their picket line for the duration of the strike. This was legally possible because the jazz faculty’s collective bargaining agreement had expired, and therefore the agreement’s “no strike” clause was not effective.
Supporting the UAW strikers was both incredibly rewarding and extremely challenging. Each passing day saw another issue that required finesse and fortitude. I’d like to personally thank the New School jazz faculty stewards (Junko Arita, David Lopato, Arun Luthra, Gene Perla and Matt Wilson,) as well as Local 802 Organizing Director John Pietaro and Local 802 Principal Business Rep Todd Weeks, who worked tirelessly with the bargaining unit under extremely difficult circumstances. They helped us maintain solidarity during an extremely chaotic time.
The jazz instructors will begin their own negotiations in the next few weeks. Local 802 and the bargaining committee have made it crystal clear that we’ll be expecting parity with the new UAW agreement. The New School is aware of our position and appears prepared to accept it.
In the big picture, musicians are the original contingent workers (or “gig workers”) in this country. Only through hard bargaining and organizing have we been able to achieve benefits and working terms that without question are ordinarily provided to other employees. This challenge continues even today. It is heartening to have stood side-by-side with our UAW family during their hard-won victory. They in turn will be standing side-by-side with us.
If you’re teaching at a music school and have questions or comments about negotiations, please get in touch with the Local 802 Organizing Department at www.local802afm.org/organize-now.
THE NLRB CORRECTS A HUGE MISTAKE
In 2019, the National Labor Relations Board issued a decision that effectively eviscerated employees’ rights to engage in informational leafleting on private property. The case involved AFM Local 23 on behalf of the San Antonio Symphony musicians, who were leafleting outside the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts . You can read more about this in my October 2019 column in Allegro, where I lamented the NLRB’s horrific decision, Bexar County Performing Arts Center Foundation, 368 NLRB No. 46 (2019).
In that decision, it was apparent that the Trump NLRB was engaging in a concerted effort to curb activity protected by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. The decision created a standard that was impossible for employees to meet with respect to protesting on private property.
The dissenting opinion in Bexar stated that “the inevitable result of their (the majority’s) new standard will be to ensure that employer property rights will almost invariably prevail, stripping important labor law rights from a significant segment of American workers who work on property owned by someone other than their employer.”
The board member who issued that dissent, Lauren McFerran, is now the chair of the NLRB under President Biden. Not surprisingly, on Dec. 16, 2022, the NLRB corrected the prior board’s error. (That prior decision had been appealed by AFM Local 23, and the appellate court returned the decision to the NLRB for further consideration.) Upon review, the NLRB now says the previous decision was in error and that the prohibitive standard established in the 2019 decision undermined contractor employee rights. The new decision restores the NLRB’s earlier standard established in 2011 that provides a more reasonable balance between two competing rights. On the one side, we have the rights of employees to engage in concerted activity for their mutual aid and protection. On the other side, there are the rights of owners to control their property. The earlier standard is being given retroactive application. In short, this is extremely good news and is a great way to start off 2023.
On that note, I wish all of you a very healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year!