Who Gets To Unionize?

As is clear from the previous post, adjuncts teach a significant number of courses each semester at Temple. While teaching two to three courses here at Temple, they often teach one or two more at other local universities in an effort to make ends meet. I do not have to tell you how difficult it is to work multiple jobs, to be a student working on research or a dissertation (or both), while also attempting to function as a normal human being (which may include raising children, sharing a life with your spouse, or simply getting 4 or more hours of sleep a night).

Whether you acknowledge the importance of adjuncts unionizing in your own life, you should be aware that this effort has been met with a lot of pushback. The university has made it clear through various modes of communication, some more obvious than others, that unionizing would not be in the adjuncts’ best interest. This is just one of many arguments that are used to deny employees better working conditions, no different from arguments made to prevent graduate student employees from unionizing.

This begs the question, who has the right unionize? Employees, right? Well, what makes someone, perhaps even a student, an employee?

According to the Department of Labor, an employee is defined as an individual that “performs services for another, under the other’s control or right of control, and in return for payment”. So what makes an adjunct, or a graduate student, that performs services for the university, in the form of research or teaching different from an employee?

Prior to the uprising of graduate student employees forming unions in the early part of the 2000s at various universities across the country, universities conjured up several arguments to prevent student employees from having better wages, health care, paid sick leave, among other benefits that union members benefit from today. More specifically, some universities have argued that graduate students should not be offered similar benefits to university faculty members because graduate student employees receive their payment in experience (as opposed to financial compensation) for their research and teaching work and thus was not technically the same kind of employee as a faculty member. According to this argument, because graduate student duties often contribute to their CV and make them more attractive to employers after graduate school (as compared to faculty members that conduct these same duties because they are paid to), they were not considered employees and therefore were not entitled to the same compensation.

As evidenced by numerous graduate student unions forming around the country, there are obviously plenty of graduate students that disagree with this sentiment. Why not the same coverage for adjuncts? Anyone that has ever taught a class knows that these are often time-consuming commitments, including class preparation (which can often take longer if it is your first time teaching the course), actual lecture time, and grading. Even more unsettling is the probability of recent PhDs and candidates having to supplement their income with adjunct positions or income solely coming from adjunct work. One would have to teach well over two or three sections to have enough money for rent, food, and health care as an adjunct. Perhaps this might not be an issue you have to worry about at the moment, but it certainly might be sooner than you think.

In order for all university employees to have a livable wage, job security, and to prevent having to work several jobs in an effort to supplement their health care as well, unions are without a doubt a necessary. Your support for the adjuncts, and continued support for your union, is crucial during times of conflict and transition in university policies and culture.

Dana Miller-Cotto
TUGSA Co-President
College of Education

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