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Adjuncts to officially unionize after overwhelming vote in favor

Only about 46 percent of adjuncts chose to vote on whether to unionize with SEIU or not. ORACLE PHOTO/CHAVELI GUZMAN

Adjunct professors can retire their protest signs for now as their fight for the right to unionize is over. In an overwhelming victory, USF adjuncts voted in favor of unionization last week.

After a significant push from adjuncts advocating for the right to unionize, the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission issued an Order and Direction of Election on Jan. 9.

This election lasted from Feb. 16 to March 13 and was conducted using mail ballots. 

The organization that will represent adjuncts is the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). According to its website, SEIU is “an organization of 2 million members united by the belief in the dignity and worth of workers and the services they provide and dedicated to improving the lives of workers and their families and creating a more just and humane society.”

Of the 900 adjuncts that were eligible to vote, 326 voted to unionize while 91 voted against it. Overall, there was a rather low voter turnout with about 46 percent deciding to vote. 

Dana Corrigan, an animation adjunct instructor, was confident her colleagues would vote in favor of unionization.

“I had a feeling that we would win because it’s been such an issue for adjuncts — our general living and working situations — and also trying to find full-time work at colleges because it’s not like most of us are not trying,” Corrigan said. 

Adam Freeman, a university spokesman, said USF doesn’t agree with the decision made by adjuncts.

“Throughout the election process, we provided adjunct faculty members with information about the realities of unionization to ensure that each voter could make an informed decision,” Freeman said. “We also explained that the university does not believe unionization best serves the needs of students, adjuncts or the university as a whole. We are disappointed by these results, as well as the low voter response.”

However, the battle is not yet over. SEIU must still negotiate with USF administration to come up with a contract for adjuncts that will appease both parties. 

“I’m realistic, we’ll have to compromise and that’s OK,” Corrigan said. “Although the campaign USF threw to try to stop the union seemed pretty rough, but I also don’t know for sure how that went at other schools. I don’t know if that was more aggressive than the other schools have been. I think negotiations will go well though.”

Jarad Fennell, an English literature adjunct professor, said if negotiations don’t go as well as he and other adjuncts expect they will, he may have to change professions. 

“I can’t really imagine remaining an adjunct for any significant period of time without something changing,” Fennell said. “I don’t think anyone intended that being an adjunct would be a lifelong career. And many of my fellow grad students have moved on to other things. I’m hoping it will work out, and I can truly spend my time on USF, and maybe reduce the number of classes I’m teaching.”

According to Corrigan, what adjuncts experience is a more systematic problem that holds them back from progress.

“I think USF is having a lot of the same problems that other schools are having which is employing more adjuncts and not having a lot of full-time faculty positions,” Corrigan said. “It’s becoming more of a business rather than a school. I think they’re regarding too much as a business and that forced us to unionize. If conditions were better, then it wouldn’t have been necessary. We have to consider them as a business and negotiate with them like a business.” 

USF adjuncts are the third adjunct group in the area to hold union elections in the past two years. The other groups, Hillsborough Community College and Broward College, both voted in favor of unionization.

“I love USF,” Fennell said. “I love working here; I love the students; I love the campus. I’m hoping that we’ll sit down and come up with something that will help everyone moving forward.”