Sept. 21, 2004
Preparing for the Part-Time Faculty Mail-In Election
Q&A with Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
Donald R. Lehman
GW How important is it for eligible part-time faculty to vote
in this election?
DL I cannot overly stress the importance of voting because according
to National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) law, a majority of those voting,
not a majority of those in the group the union seeks to represent, will
determine the election outcome. For instance, if only 100 part-time faculty
members vote, and 51 vote yes for the union, all current and
future part-time faculty, including those who did not vote, will be represented
by the Service Employees International Union Local 500 (SEIU Local 500)
in one unit. This will affect all part-time faculty, except those teaching
in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Therefore, part-time faculty
who wish to have a say in the determination of what may significantly
affect their future employment conditions must return their ballots. And,
I say this to all part-time faculty, including those who may disagree
with my point of view.
GW Why the mail ballot?
DL We thought the best way for everybody to have the opportunity
to vote was by having the ballots mailed to them as opposed to their having
to go to a designated voting place here on campus. The SEIU Local 500
initially resisted a mail ballot, but we are familiar with the hectic
schedules of part-time faculty and, therefore, fought hard for this more
inclusive process. The mail ballot makes voting a quick and easy process.
GW Will SEIU Local 500 require that all part-time faculty join the
union and adhere to its regulations?
DL We cant speculate about what might be the outcome of the
collective bargaining process, but we do know that almost all Service
Employees International Union contracts, of which Local 500 is a part,
have a union security clause that requires union membership as a condition
of continued employment. A union security clause would most likely preclude
part-time faculty from teaching if they are not members of the union.
The SEIU Local 500 could also compel all of its members to follow the
bylaws of its affiliated entities. These rules often include fines and
sanctions for non-payment of union assessments or for refusal to engage
in picketing, strikes or other job actions.
GW How does the hiring of part-time faculty work now?
DL Right now, department chairs and program directors have flexibility
to find the most qualified instructors and to negotiate individually with
them on issues relating to course content, scheduling and salary. I did
that when I was chair of the physics department. The system worked well
for the faculty and benefited the students; our part-time faculty members
received excellent reviews. If we end up in a union type of situation,
the union will be the representative for their employment, not the faculty.
GW What would be the impact of unionization on the part-time faculty?
DL I think what people have to realize is that the part-time faculty
is a diverse population with many different goals and priorities. We have
faculty members who work full-time in the corporate world, in the federal
government, in non-profit organizations and so forth. They teach for several
reasons, including because we invite them to teach since we feel that
they bring something special to the classroom. Some of them teach because
its something they want to do. It may be part of their intellectual
growth. Unionization by its very nature will standardize the treatment
of the part-time faculty at the University. At this time, the varying
issues among part-time faculty are primarily addressed by department chairs.
Unionization may remove the ability of those chairs to address those issues
and replace it with a uniform one size fits all approach.
It also could impede our ability to recruit prestigious outside professionals.
Other repercussions on the part-time faculty could include imposing working
conditions that would make the assignment and scheduling of classes difficult
for part-time faculty members; reduce opportunities for the creation and
revision of courses; and polarize relations with the full-time faculty
on matters from scheduling to evaluations to compensation.
I do not mean to suggest that the part-time faculty at GW does not have
legitimate concerns, only that I do not believe that unionization is the
best way to address them. And, I should also point out that the union
cannot mandate change in a union, setting terms and conditions
of employment are negotiated through the collective bargaining process,
a process that can take many, many months and may not result in an agreement
GW What has the full-time faculty reaction been to this issue?
DL I would say on the whole, most of the full-time faculty members
I spoke with are very concerned. They are wary about the fact that in
order to be able to do things like change schedules, they would have to
negotiate through a third party as opposed to being able to work directly
with the part-time faculty members themselves. With unionization, the
expectations will be that all of the work requirements will be defined
by the union, a third party with a bureaucracy of its own and which has
larger interests than just those of the part-time faculty at GW.
GW What are the expected dues if the union petition is successful?
DL We cannot make a definite statement on this issue because it
is a union determination. However, we can tell you that, according to
the unions financial reports filed with the US Department of Labor
this year, SEIU Local 500 regularly charges its members $468 in dues.
In addition, it typically charges new members a one-time initiation fee.
The dues, according to SEIU Local 500, will be used in part to organize
new members of the union, and not just for the needs of the part-time
faculty at GW.
GW Arent there other unions on campus representing GW employees?
DL Yes, there are a few unions on campus. One represents GWs
housekeepers and groundskeepers, for example. The University enjoys good
relationships with those unions. However, we do not believe that unionization
of part-time faculty, especially by a local inexperienced in representing
faculty and dealing with academic issues, would be in the best interests
of the part-time faculty, the University and the students we serve.
GW How are you communicating with the part-time faculty on this issue?
DL So far I have sent two memos, one in May and one in August.
Both of these memos can be found on GWs unionization Web site (www.unionization.
gwu.edu), which also includes a page for frequently asked questions. I
expect more mailings to go out to the part-time faculty community as we
get closer to the election. I read recently in The GW Hatchet that Local
500 representatives have been going to the homes of our part-time faculty,
uninvited, to solicit their vote. I think that violates the privacy of
part-time faculty members and we will not do that.
Individuals looking to learn more about the issues involved in union representation
can visit www.unionzation.gwu.edu.
Send feedback to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Faculty Asked to Vote on Representation