Last week, San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) President Charles Desmarais sent an email to part-time and temporary faculty about a forthcoming vote over joining the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). SEIU is most widely known for organizing labor unions for healthcare workers, facilities workers, and public services workers; but in recent months the organization has also been working with visiting faculty at Bay Area art schools to create a union for part-time college educators.
According to Desmarais' email, the SEIU filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board seeking an election to determine if part-time and visiting faculty at the Institute wants to be represented. (Disclosure: Having taught as visiting faculty at SFAI last semester, I am among those eligible to vote.) Ballots are scheduled to be mailed out on May 12.
Mills College is also voting presently and Mitchell Schwarzer, President of the Faculty Senate at California College of the Arts recently announced a special meeting scheduled for this evening for all un-ranked faculty “to provide some background information and, more importantly, a forum for discussion on the SEIU union drive.”
One longtime educator who wished to remain anonymous surmised, “This is the first time CCA has held a meeting solely for adjuncts in my experience. The union drive is having an impact.”
Last year, the death of Duquesne University adjunct Margaret Mary Vojtko sparked a national labor debate around conditions for part-time educators, as reported online by NPR.org. Vojtko had been part-time faculty for 25 years, and at the time of her death she was essentially destitute, lacking insurance to cover extensive medical bills, and nearly homeless. Her tale brought to light the hardships facing part-time faculty and the fact that extreme stories of survival, from living without healthcare to selling plasma to buy food, are frankly commonplace among her counterparts.