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Hundreds rally at Seattle U in union fight

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(Images: Alex Garland for CHS)

Students, faculty, and staff walked out of Seattle University buildings Wednesday afternoon to support an ongoing effort by adjunct and part-time faculty to unionize.

The demonstration was part of the National Adjunct Walkout Day, and comes as some Seattle U non-tenured faculty members continue their fight with the university administration to form a union. The hour-long demonstration stretched along the university’s section of 12th Ave and ended with a rally on campus.

Speaking at the rally, council members Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata called on the Seattle U administration to increase wages for “contingent” faculty members, which make up about half of the faculty. “Many of the PhD’s who are adjuncts qualify for food stamps,” Sawant said.

IMG_0142Sawant, a former Seattle U adjunct economics professor, said she was paid significantly more as an adjunct at Seattle Central College because she had union representation.

A statement from administration officials said the university has made strides in raising salaries for non-tenured faculty members and is working to address a shortage of office space for adjuncts. “We welcome the show of support for our adjunct faculty and adjuncts nationwide,” officials said in the statement.

Momentum to form an adjunct union at Seattle U started to build in 2013 with the involvement of Local 925 of the Service Employees International Union. At the time CHS obtained a letter from the administration that urged faculty members to reject a union and warned that unionizing may impede the school’s religious freedoms as faculty relations would be subject to federal rules.

Wednesday was a busy day for demonstrations on campuses around Seattle. Beyond the adjunct labor pickets, hundreds also marched on the University of Washington campus in a walkout “in solidarity with the Black Live Matter movement.”

Last year, Seattle U faculty did vote on forming a union, but legal opposition from the university administration has put the vote count on hold. Rally-goers called for the administration to drop the legal challenge and allow the vote count to move forward.

History professor Theresa Earenfight said the university was acting hypocritical by championing social justice issues while allowing for widespread inequality among its employees. As a tenured professor, Earenfight said she performs essentially the same duties as non-tenured faculty but enjoys much better benefits only because she happened to join the university at the right time.

Students and faculty also called for more budget transparency after the administration announced a 4% budget cut for 2015.

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7 thoughts on “Hundreds rally at Seattle U in union fight

  1. Serious question I’m waiting for someone in the region to ask a politician “supporting” union labor elsewhere: Kshama, are your personal staff at city hall unionized? Mr. Lacata, are your personal staff unionized?

    Please, for the love of God will someone ask this of a city, county or state elected official?

      • This is a pretty ignorant rhetorical question. But since you asked, yes many of the City’s employees are unionized. I can’t speak for the City Council staffers. But public employees are the new heart of the American labor movement.
        Thanks to people like Sawant and Lacata, the City pays a living wage that can support families. Unlike Seattle University, which hires temp workers at low wages to teach kids paying high tuition dollars.

      • Sasha,

        Thanks for calling my question ignorant, and then admitting you don’t know the answer. Also, I specifically used the term “personal staff” in order to exclude the central staffers that are indeed unionized. Personal staff are at-will employees that can be terminated at any time for any reason a Councilmember wants.

        It would be nice if somebody would question why an elected like Sawant, Licata and others at the local and state level get credit for supporting unions, but don’t allow them in their own office.

    • Why don’t you just ask her office via the contact info at: http://www.seattle.gov/council/sawant/

      I can’t tell from http://www.seattle.gov/personnel/resources/agreements.asp

      I don’t know the answer but unionizaton is not something the boss forces on workers. I’m confident that should people on her staff choose to unionize she would support it. But again, you can ask her, as otherwise you’re offering a “gotcha” point that may be completely moot or wrong.

      If you’re on a search for hypocrisy among elected officials, your search does not need to begin and end with her and Licata. Of course you can contact his office as well. Feel free to post their replies here in a comment.

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