With one brief word, Schenectady County Community College recognized the unionization of its adjunct instructors Monday.
The Board of Trustees voted so quickly that adjuncts were stunned. They didn’t start to cheer and applaud until the trustees were halfway through their next agenda item.
The board unanimously accepted that the adjuncts will be represented by Service Employees International Union. The vote came after union membership cards were signed by an overwhelming majority of the 270 adjuncts working at the college.
Now comes the hard part: negotiating a contract.
“We start with a stack of blank papers,” said union organizer Sean Collins, who acknowledged that negotiations will likely take awhile.
Adjuncts are hoping for better pay and health insurance.
Rebecca Cash, who teaches English at SCCC and two other colleges, said she makes about $2,300 per class while full-time faculty make $4,000 to $5,000 per class in their first year. They’re also guaranteed five classes per semester.
“That, plus benefits, would be a living wage and it would not be insulting,” Cash said.
Guaranteed employment would also be a relief, she said. This January, her SCCC class was nearly canceled for lack of two students. That would have cost her one-third of her income for the semester, she said.
And because the cancelation was proposed three days before the term began, she’d already spent weeks reading stories and finding ways to connect them to current events, in preparation for the class.
At the last minute, two students joined the class. Having it canceled is her “biggest fear,” she said.
She has two master’s degrees. Friends have asked her why she doesn’t simply get a better job — one where she wouldn’t drive 93 miles round trip for $2,300 per semester.
“It’s because I love teaching,” she said. “And I love community college. I don’t want to do anything else and I’m not going to. I’m going to fight.”
Adjunct Lee Miller, who teaches remedial classes, said he hopes the union will push SCCC to hire more full-time staff and use fewer adjuncts.
“It’s an issue of quality. The quality will improve,” he said. “We’re just trying to establish a counter balance to the trend of too many adjuncts replacing full-time faculty. I think the solution is to have a voice.”
Cash said full-time work would improve education because more teachers would be on campus for office hours, committee meetings and other efforts. Adjuncts currently aren’t invited to department meetings, and the English adjuncts are required to use textbooks chosen by the full-time faculty, she said.
SEIU is already negotiating for adjuncts at The College of Saint Rose, who joined the union last fall.
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