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Financial feasibility hinders contract negotiations between Barnard and Contingent Faculty union

Issues of financial fairness and feasibility, more so than disagreements over labor ideologies, have prevented the Barnard Contingent Faculty union and the college from reaching an agreement on the economic portions of the union’s first contract.

The union—which represents the 200-plus members of Barnard’s adjunct or full-time non-tenured faculty—was voted into existence in October 2015 by Barnard’s contingent faculty, which currently make up 57 percent of Barnard’s total faculty.  

Though the union and the college have made progress on some of the non-economic terms in the contract, the two parties have gone back-and-forth a total of four times on the economic portion of the contract.

Currently, adjunct faculty, who teach a maximum of three courses per year and are hired on a per-semester basis, are provided a base pay of $5,000 for each three-credit course they teach—a rate which fluctuates depending on the department.

Unlike adjuncts, term and titled faculty receive a salary and often get health, vision, and dental benefits but are not eligible to renew their contract for more than a total of five years.

The union’s initial proposal notably called for a $15,000 base pay for adjuncts teaching courses of three credits or fewer—a 200 percent increase—with commensurate increases for four-credit courses, a $75,000 salary for term and titled faculty, and benefits to be extended to all members of the union in an effort to improve pay and job security for its members.

Egon Conway / Staff Designer

But this initial proposal was, according to adjunct dance lecturer and BCF-UAW bargaining committee member Siobhan Burke, BC ’08, intentionally high, allowing room for negotiating down.

After three months without receiving a counterproposal from the college on the economic portions of the contract, the union staged a demonstration outside of Barnard’s annual fundraising gala in May.

Two weeks later on May 19, the college came back with its first counterproposal on the economic portions of the contract. This offer, according to the union’s website, included adjunct base pays of $6,000 for three-credit courses and $2,000 per credit for courses under three credits. The offer also stated that term and titled faculty would receive a minimum salary of $60,000. No provisions for annual raises were included, and benefits would have remained limited only to term and titled faculty currently receiving benefits.

In response, the union revised its offer on June 7 down to a base pay of $15,000 for four credit courses, $12,000 for three credit courses, $9,000 for two credit courses, and $6,000 for one credit courses. The proposal also mandated for a $72,000 annual minimum salary for term and titled faculty and a four percent annual increase for all faculty members in the union. Their position in benefits did not change from their initial proposal.

The college’s website states that it submitted a counterproposal on wages to the union at the Aug. 2 negotiating session. Both Barnard Provost Linda Bell and members of the union declined to provide details on this offer.

Though bargaining is a natural part of the negotiation process, the issue of financial fairness has become a point of disagreement. Bell and the union have both described their proposals as “fair,” but their definitions on the term have widely varied.

Since its inception, the union has called for a wage deemed “fair” for contingent faculty based on the labor values and the cost of living in New York City. This position also falls in line with the national “Fight for $15” movement, which was first sparked by service employees calling for a $15 per hour minimum wage.

But in an interview with Spectator last Thursday, Bell said she described a fair contract as one paying above the median for comparable schools in comparable locations.

“We are really committed to giving our community, our contingent faculty, the very best contract, a competitive first contract that we would judge fair, not based necessarily on the value of their labor, but something that's considered competitive, that honors and places them at or above what comparable adjunct workers make at comparable institutions,” she said.

At a teach-in last April, dance lecturer Margaret Morrison, BC ’83, said that the lack of a sufficient wage was discouraging to her as an alumna and professor.

“They want us to go out into the world and succeed, but when we come here there's no job security, no insurance, and there's not a living wage,” she said. “They hire us [alumnae] back, but then they won't pay us for what they prepared us for.”

In August, English adjunct lecturer Sonam Singh told Spectator that the union’s proposals resonate with individuals beyond the Contingent Faculty union.

“Our sense is that the college’s position remains very unreasonable and disrespectful of the work we do, and the value we bring to Barnard,” he said.

Although Bell said she agrees that contingent faculty both at Barnard and nationally should be compensated more, she said that finances, among other issues, pose a barrier to moving forward with the union’s economic proposal—an issue that is not unique to Barnard.

“Unfortunately, we can't look at things in isolation, and we need to look at pay in the market, we have to look at our pay versus other people's pay,” Bell said.

“We can't change the paradigm, we're not big enough, we're not wealthy enough,” Bell added. “What I want to do, really hard, is to work with the union to come up with a fair contract, the contract that honors their commitment, since they are committed faculty members that have been here multiple years. Many of them here form long-term relationships with the students that they teach—they feel very much a part of this community, and they are very much a part of this community.”

Bell said that if the college were to accept the union’s initial economic proposal, adjunct pay would be misaligned.

“We need to make sure everything is fair because we need to attract the best faculty possible, and we need to provide the best academic program possible,” she said.

Although Burke also said she believes that the key roadblock for negotiations is rooted in finances, she said that the college’s funding allocations in general are a source of frustration.

“I’m sure it has to do with money, but they’re spending money on lots of other things right now, and I don’t see why faculty, who facilitate the core mission of the college, which is teaching and learning, should be a low priority,” she said.

Across the street, Columbia’s adjunct base pay is also $5,000 for courses of three credits or fewer. NYU’s part-time faculty—which are part of a union—received $6,989 per course during the 2015-2016 academic year, while at Wellesley College, the median pay for non-tenure-track faculty is $6,700 per course.

The University of Massachusetts, Lowell—a public university whose adjunct faculty contract has been shared by the Barnard Contingent Faculty union as an example of a successful starting contract—pays its adjuncts $4,000 per course. The exception to this policy is adjuncts teaching in the sciences, mathematics, clinical lab science, engineering, and physical therapy, who make $4,500 per course.

Although the college and the union are now entering their seventh month of negotiations, this timeline is not unusual for first-time contract negotiations: It took NYU and University of Massachusetts, Lowell 17 and 14 months, respectively, to agree to their initial contracts. Still, UAW-Local 2110 president Maida Rosenstein, who is representing the union in their negotiations, said that she found the “glacial” pace surprising.

“It depends a lot on the employer, if the employer is willing to agree to changes,” Rosenstein said of the timeline in a July interview with Spectator.

Bell said she feels that drawn-out negotiations would not be in the best interest of either the college or the union and could have an impact on the morale of the Barnard community.

“Barnard, more than most institutions, is a community, and any long drawn-out negotiations would damage our community,” she said. “Already, there's a heaviness, kind of, because unfortunately we're beginning a new year, and we're all so excited but there's this heaviness because we still have to resolve this with our contingent faculty.”

The college and union are set to meet at the bargaining table for the fourteenth time on Sept. 16, but negotiations are likely to continue throughout the fall semester.

J. Clara Chan contributed reporting.

ainsley.bandrowski@columbiaspectator.com | @ACBandrowski

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