|By Steven Levi
Where We Are Now
Whether you have been teaching as an adjunct for two hours or 20 years, it probably didn’t take you long to figure out that being an adjunct was different than being a regular teacher. Your schedule is decided by the University, your office is your car and if you’re lucky, you can use the photocopy and FAX machines in your department office. But then again, don’t get your hopes up.
Crudely stated, adjuncts are the cannon fodder for the big guns at the University. We ‘fill in’ because we are cheap, plentiful and don’t complain very loudly. Even though we are responsible for teaching about half of all student hours – and substantially higher percentages on the smaller campuses and military bases – we are still paid substantially lower than other adjuncts in other states in the union. We receive no health benefits, no retirement, no tenure, no first-right-of-refusal for classes we may have taught for decades, no first-right-of-refusal for full time employment, and quite often, no respect from the full time instructors and professors at the University.
Though our numbers vary from semester to semester, in any one pay period there are between 1,000 and 1,200 adjuncts working. In addition to the regular classes that meet weekly, we also represent people who teach more than 10 hours of noncredit classes per week, retired professors who teach an occasional class, visiting instructors who have been ‘visiting’ for more than a year, people who have worked full time for the University and then returned as 49% employees, just low enough so that the University does not have pay them benefits.
Even though adjuncts do not have a laundry list of rights, we do have some rather significant ones. These rights are set out in our collective Bargaining Agreement contract that you can find in its entirety on the our web site. It is also on the University of Alaska web site. But if you need a hard copy or a copy on a CD, call any APEA office and one will be sent by mail.
This booklet is designed to give you an overview of your union, your rights, and options open to you as an adjunct and, finally, a snapshot of the general provisions of your new contract.
The Alaska Public Employees Association/AFT is the oldest Public Employee union in Alaska. Formed in 1955, as the Alaska State Employees Association, it was originally formed to lobby the Alaska Legislature on pay and benefits for State Employees. The Alaska Legislature passed the Public Employment Relations Act in 1972 which granted State and Local Government Employees the right to organize and form unions for the purpose of "negotiating wages, hours and other terms and condition of employment." APEA/AFT was originally selected the bargaining agent for the state's Supervisory and General Government Units.
In addition, employees of the City of Nome, the Fairbanks North Star Borough and the Classified employees of the Juneau School District voted for APEA to represent them. With the acceptance of political subdivision employees into the Association, the name changed from the Alaska State Employees Association to the Alaska Public Employees Association. APEA continued to grow and began representing more and more political subdivision employees. In 1990, APEA looked for outside help to assist us in the tough times we were facing. After looking into and investigating a number of International Unions, the members of APEA overwhelmingly voted to join the American Federation of Teachers/Federation of Public Employees. With their help and resources, we have been successful in attaining bargaining rights for 250 blue collar employees of the University of Alaska. In a joint venture with the American Association of University Professors, 700 full-time University of Alaska faculty have attained bargaining rights, as well as the Adjunct Faculty. Since 1980, APEA and AFT individually and collectively have been working with the white collar employees to assist them in exercising their right to bargain. APEA/AFT is governed by a Board of Directors made up of the President and Secretary-Treasurer, who are elected by all the members, and 17 Directors elected by specific constituencies on a regional or employer basis.
Our union, United Academic Adjuncts Local 6054, was organized under the umbrella of a state federation of unions. Called a “state fed,” this is a statewide organization of unions that have similar occupations. In a larger state there would be a state federation of teachers. But in Alaska, we have such a small population base that our state fed represents most public employees who are not state employees. A public employee is someone who works for, a city, a municipality, a borough, the state, the University of Alaska or other public-owned entity like a power plant or water utility. Police and fire personnel have their own union, PSEA (Public Safety Employees Association), and most State of Alaska employees are members of ASEA (Alaska State Employees Association) but there are eleven unions altogether representing the State of Alaska employees.
Your state fed operates three offices – Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks – and staff is available during regular office hours to ‘service the contract.’ We also have a lobbyist in Juneau who monitors labor legislation as it appears in both the State House and State Senate. Even though the primary Adjunct office is located in Fairbanks, all three offices handle Adjunct matters.
American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
Our state fed is represented nationally by the American Federation of Teachers, the AFT and the AAUP. The President of AFT, Randi Weingarten, is one of the Vice Presidents of the AFL-CIO and is thus intimately involved with union, education and labor issues on a national level. AFT monitors what is happening in Congress and the courts and runs nationwide campaigns to publicize the plight of its members. AFT was a sponsor of the “Living Wage” campaign at Harvard which demanded that all Harvard employees – including the blue and white collar workers – made enough from full time work to live on the Massachusetts economy.
United Academic Adjuncts
United Academic Adjuncts Local 6054, known simply as “Adjuncts,” was formed in 1998 when a majority of adjuncts voted to form the union. Adjuncts have a board of directors that is elected by dues paying members (Agency Fee payers have no vote). The board meets several times a year and any member may participate. Members of the board are elected, as are members of other special committees including the Negotiations Committee that is formed every three years to work out a new contract. You can find Adjunct bylaws and constitution in this web site.
What Does Our Union Do For Us – Exactly?
By law, whether you are a "dues paying member" or "an agency fee payer", the union provides the same level of service. Service means handling problems between you and the University. ANY problem, from personality clashes, not being able to use a photocopy machine in your department office, being bumped from a class you have been teaching for ten years or a lippy student. While the union can’t solve all problems, at the very least we want to hear about them.
How do you know if your problem is ‘big enough’ to call the union? The answer is simple. When you wonder if you should call the union, you should. The best time for the union to solve a problem is when it is small. The larger that problem grows, the more complicated it will become. Typical problems handled by your union over the course of a year include adjuncts being threatened with physical violence, administrators changing grades against the will of the instructor, pay disputes, classes too large for the rooms assigned, coordination of trips out of the country as well as personality disputes and ‘problems with communication’ and personal communication skills. The reason you pay dues and agency fee is for your union to handle personnel problems that affect working conditions – your working conditions. If you have a problem, CALL.
As an example of some of the small ‘problems’ your union has been solving:
I cannot find an empty room for a confidential conversation with a student because everyone leaves at 5 pm and I start to teach at 7 pm.
My department won’t let me use the photocopy machine.
My department won’t let me make long distance calls to students on the University’s phone so I have to call from home and I am not compensated for those calls.
My department requires me to submit paperwork to be copied four days in advance so the department secretary can copy them. Then she puts them in my mailbox – sometimes.
I do not have a mailbox.
I cannot get supplies like chalk or erasers when I need them particularly after 5 pm.
I need maps in my room.
I need a larger room for the final for my dance class and the University won’t unlock a room that is empty and could be used just because it is after 5 pm.
What Kind Of General Problems Has The Union Been Involved In?
Basically the following are ongoing problems your staff is handling:
Adjuncts who want to teach more than the 15 credits per academic year because they teach lab classes (4 and 5 credits) or languages (4 credits.) Adjuncts cannot teach more than 15 credits during any academic year because to do so they would have to become members of another bargaining unit, UAFT (formerly ACCFT). This is not a problem the adjunct union can solve. Adjuncts who want to teach more than 15 credits per academic year should contact UAFT for more details.
Adjuncts who have not been retained to teach a class they might have been teaching for years. Usually this involves ‘someone with connections’ who gets the job. This happens most frequently over the summer when a ‘friend of a friend of a full time professor’ wants to come to Alaska for the summer and bumps out the adjunct who has been teaching the class for years.
Adjuncts who have class startup problems. Usually these means one of four things: 1) they aren’t getting their letter of appointment before the class starts, 2) they don’t know how to fill out the dues deduction form and don’t know where to turn it in, 3) their books or teaching materials are not arriving on time, particularly when they teach in a remote location, or 4) how do they get a refund for a class or a parking permit for which they have already paid. Union staff handles these issues on a case-by-case basis.
What Is The Difference Between Paying Dues And Being An Agency Fee Payer?
By State law, no one can be forced to a member of a union even if he or she is represented by a union. When you filled out your dues deduction form, you had to mark one of two boxes: dues deduction or agency fee payer. If you checked the dues deduction box you are a full member of United Academic Adjuncts and can vote on the contract and other matter affecting the Adjuncts Local 6054. If you checked the Agency Fee box, that means you are paying for the service you receive only and cannot participate in any union business – including voting on the contract. After you have filled out the Dues Deduction form, return it to the person who gave you your contract. If you don’t know what that was, send it to your local payroll office.
If you are not sure which box you checked, contact Kerin Wilson in Juneau APEA/AFT office (586-2334 or, outside of Juneau, 1-800-478-9991 or by email to Kerin at firstname.lastname@example.org to see what your status is. ONLY DUES PAYING MEMBERS CAN VOTE ON THE CONTRACT.
If you are an Agency Fee payer, you may request what is called a “Hudson Packet” which is the financial overview of the union. This is to assure you that the dues you are paying have a fiscal basis rather than just a number pulled out of thin air. The "Hudson Packet" for APEA-AFT is available by contacting Kerin Wilson in the Juneau APEA/AFT office.
WHAT OTHER FORMS DO I HAVE TO FILL OUT?
By State law, adjuncts fall under the Conflict of Interest statute. What this means, as a minimum, is that you have fill out a Conflict of Interest form each year. You should be given one by the department that hires you. If you aren’t given one, ask for it. Or you can find all the forms on the University web site under Human Relations. As a last resort, you can contact your local Human Resource Department and have them FAX you a form.
Keep in mind that the Conflict of Interest form must be signed by your supervisor. You may also have to fill out other Conflict of Interest forms if you have a close relative who works for the University, a contract with the University, received a gift of more than $150 from the University or one of its employees or you are working on a grant through the University. All disclosures have to be made at least once a year and within 30 days of your first day of work. These forms are required by law. If you have any questions, please call the Human Relations office in Anchorage, Fairbanks or Juneau.
Many adjuncts feel that the Conflict of Interest law should not apply to adjuncts because we are not employees or subcontractors. We are temporarily retained professionals, like a doctor, lawyer or veterinarian. If you feel that adjuncts should not be subject to the Conflict of Interest law, contact your legislator and ask that adjuncts be removed from the statute. But until adjuncts are removed, you still have to fill out the paperwork.
- Disclosure by University of Alaska Employee Relating to Employment of Immediate Family Members
- Grants/Contracts/Leases/Loans Notification
- Notification of Receipt of Gift
- Notification of Receipt of Gift from Another Government
One of the biggest issues for many adjuncts is health insurance. Unfortunately, the University offers none however, if you are a dues paying adjunct, you may be able to take advantage of AFT PLUS. This is a program open to all dues paying members of AFT – which includes the Adjuncts. The spread of insurance programs include group term life, disability, short-term medical, critical illness, catastrophe major medical, hospital income, long-term care, and accident. Stop by any APEA office for a copy of AFT PLUS BENEFITS.
Our contract with the University also allows APEA/AFT to take, hold and pay out payroll deductions for political contributions, health insurance and supplementary health insurance such as AFLAC. If this is of interest to you, contact any APEA office for details.
Members are eligible to participate in the voluntary AFLAC insurance programs through payroll deduction. These plans provide cash benefits directly to the member above and beyond any other coverage that they may have in force. Programs available include the Accident Expense plan, the Personal Cancer Protector plan and the Hospital Intensive Care plan. These policies are specific in scope and are designed to help offset out-of-pocket expenses such as co-payments, deductibles, travel and lodging, and time missed from work. For specific information and to enroll please contact one of the regional AFLAC offices.
While there are no retirement benefits in our contract, there is a side door to tax-deferred savings. The University has a TDA Program that allows a payroll deduction into a tax-deferred account. The dollars are taken out of your paycheck before taxes are calculated so your tax liability is decreased. It is important to note that this is not a tax-free account in the sense you never have to pay taxes on it. You are just deferring the taxes owed until you take the money out. There is a ceiling of $11,000 per year and where you can invest is somewhat restricted – and the money can eventually be rolled over into a traditional IRA account. Contact your local University payroll office for specific details.
HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR CONTRACT
Salary is always a big issue. The Salary increases for each year changes based on our negotiations with the administration.
An ongoing issue each semester is class size. As we all know, what the University calls a ‘full class’ and what an adjunct calls a ‘full class’ are different. For about three years, the unspoken understanding was that the minimum size for a class was 12 students. This was not set in concrete because in some areas – Valdez, Cordova, Dillingham, Nome among others – it was not possible get 12 students into a single class. Classes in those areas had a tendency to be smaller. Then there was the question of how large classes could be. In some subjects, like history, classes of 50 or 60 are not unusual.
When the question of small classes came up originally, the University and the Union signed a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) that allowed for three options. First, the University could cancel the class if it was too small. Or the adjunct could choose not to teach the class. Or the University and the adjunct could ‘cut a deal.’ While the union is not interested in seeing anyone teach for less than full salary, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that if class size were set at 12, no classes at all would have been taught in Valdez, Cordova, Dillingham, Nome and other small communities.
This is a variable cost in the sense that our contract allows you to ask for more and your union encourages you to demand more.
The University also declined to come up with a definitive maximum class size. So the union is encouraging all adjuncts to request a pay increase if they are asked to teach more than 35 students in large, lecture classes or more than 15 students in the intensive writing and physical education classes.
Remember, the amounts listed in our contract are not maximums; they are minimums. You can ask for more. Keep in mind that about 1/3 of all credit hours taught by adjuncts are paid above these minimums. The union urges you to negotiate for a higher wage; you’re worth it!
Some of the other benefits our contract provides include
An hourly rate for those ‘extra duties’ you are required to perform such as attending department meetings, public relations receptions or off campus activities. The contract allows you to negotiate with the University for a per hourly rate. If you don’t know what to charge, the union urges you to consider an amount equal to or more than your hourly rate teaching.
A banking of free class tuition credits. Adjuncts can now save up to 12 credits to be used anytime they are actively teaching or up to 24 months after they leave the employment of the University. These credits cannot be used for self-support classes but they can be used by your spouse or children with certain restrictions.
Half-off parking fees at UAA, UAF and UAS. Exclusive of the parking garage at UAA or Gold Parking Permits in Fairbanks, all others are ½ off.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
WHO ARE APEA, AFT, AAUP AND WHY SHOULD I CARE
United Academics – Adjuncts Local 6054 is a union under a statewide organization, in this case, the Alaska Public Employees Association (APEA/AFT/AFT). Why do we need a statewide umbrella? Because your union dues and the agency fee pay for “service.” Service means that someone has to keep an eye on the university to see that it lives up to its end of the contract. For instance, if an adjunct is not compensated for his/her work at the agreed upon amount, the union can and will file a grievance against the University on behalf of the employee member. If you happen to be that adjunct, that means that someone is dealing with the paperwork and procedures for you. The service also includes paying for the negotiating teams in the future and any legal assistance that is needed. Since there are not enough dollars coming in from the adjuncts to have a stand-alone office we will have a joint office with the Alaska Public Employees Association. AFT (American Federation of Teachers) and AAUP (American Association of University Professors) are our national umbrella. They do for us nationally what APEA is doing statewide.
Why should you care?
We have been underpaid, overworked, denied benefits and that’s just the start of the list. But we were treated that way because we did not speak with a single voice. Now we do. And we have some muscular friends on our side of the table – APEA, AFT and AAUP.
WHY SHOULD I BECOME A MEMBER OF THE UNION?
Only union members have a say in what the union does. That includes everything from what is in a proposed contract to how to handle grievances. The monetary benefits also include access to health insurance, discounts at hotels and resorts, car rental upgrades and free publications. In terms of education, the union also offers free, ongoing training for those who want to participate as officers, negotiators, grievance council members and committee chairs. Keep in mind that a union is only as effective as its members are.
CAN I BE A MEMBER OF THE UNION IF I’M NOT TEACHING RIGHT NOW?
Please read Article III, Section 2 of the Adjunct Constitution Page on this web site.
DO I HAVE TO JOIN THE UNION?
No. But you will still have to pay an agency fee. Union dues are currently set at 2.5% or your gross. The agency fee will be 2% of your gross. Why are you paying a fee even if you don’t belong to the union? First, because you will reap the benefits of a wage increase without paying for the negotiating team or the union organization expenses. Second, since the union is the exclusive bargaining agent for the adjuncts, it must represent you in every grievance with the university whether you are a member or not. Considering the small cash difference between the agency fee and the dues – and the monetary benefits of being a member – it’s probably not worth your while to be a agency fee payer.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I HAVE ANY SPECIFIC QUESTIONS?
Go to the Officers Page if you want to contact one of your colleagues who serves as an officer of our union or go to the Contact Us information which is at the bottom of the Home Page.
HOW DO I GET A COPY OF THE COURT DECISION ON BARGAINING RIGHTS FOR ADJUNCTS?
Click Here for the 1997 Alaska Superior Court Decision affirming Adjuncts' rights to form a union. It's in Adobe's PDF format.