Adjunct faculty members rally to rebuke Genshaft, call for vote on proposed union
By Nancy McCann
After months of describing their individual struggles with low income and financial hardships, adjunct faculty from the three USF campuses have one, simple message: Let us vote.
At a Nov. 29 rally on the Tampa campus, adjuncts rebuked USF System President Judy Genshaft and the university for fighting their efforts to hold a union election to form a collective bargaining unit.
Many adjuncts see a union as their only chance for fair pay, benefits and better working conditions.
“The ugly truth is that the administration considers us not really employees, and they tell us this to our faces,” said Tara Blackwell from USF’s department of cell biology, microbiology and molecular biology, one of several adjuncts who spoke at the rally. “We sign contracts one semester at a time, get no job security and almost no pay.”
Adjuncts from the USF system in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee launched a union campaign last January under the name Faculty Forward. By April, they had the number of signatures required to petition the state Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) for a union election.
In May, the USF Board of Trustees submitted documents to the state in an attempt to squash the adjuncts’ petition. The trustees served notice that the university would do everything legally possible to prevent adjuncts from forming a union.
After a state hearing officer recommended in October that PERC approve the adjuncts’ request for an election “as soon as is practicable,” the university continued filing paperwork to oppose the adjuncts.
A statement released by the university in October said that although adjuncts “provide a valuable service,” the USF system “believes forming a union is not in the best interests of the adjuncts and continues to oppose this effort.”
The PERC board must decide by late January whether the adjuncts can proceed with a union election.
The university describes adjuncts as “temporary” employees with “no continued expectation of employment” who are “appointed to their positions for the specific purpose of filling unexpected ‘holes’ in the teaching schedule,” according to documents written by attorneys for the university.
About half of the faculty members at USF St. Petersburg in 2016 were adjuncts. They taught 39 percent of all undergraduate student credit hours and 68 percent of all undergraduate course sections in 2015, according to numbers submitted to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
“I feel angry and betrayed. I am a graduate of USF, and I have worked here as a graduate student and adjunct for almost a decade,” wrote Jarad Fennell in a Nov. 13 email to The Crow’s Nest. “I love working here, but the administration has signaled with its repeated delays that it would prefer to spend money on maintaining the fiction that I am a temporary employee rather than providing its adjuncts with a living wage.”
Fennell has a doctorate in English literature and teaches at USF Tampa and the University of Tampa. When asked how he feels about the university’s reliance on a case involving mosquito spray truck drivers and temporary manual labor to support its arguments against a union for adjuncts, Fennell replied that he considers the parallel “a foolish one.”
“It is an absurd comparison to support a ridiculous fiction that is the foundation of a frankly insulting argument. We are skilled professionals doing a job that the administration does not wish to hire more full-time faculty to handle,” he said. “Without us, the university would cease to function properly.”
“I was surprised by how against us they (USF administrators) are,” wrote Rebecca Skelton, an adjunct who taught classes in USF St. Petersburg’s art department. “With staff and full-time professors being in unions already, why would they discriminate against us?”
Last week’s campus demonstration, which drew about three dozen adjuncts and supporters, followed the release of a report titled “Life on the Edge of the Blackboard” by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Information in the report came from 800 responses to a voluntary survey of adjuncts in Florida.
The respondents were asked if they have ever experienced poverty indicators such as taking out payday loans, skipping meals, using a food bank or soup kitchen, skipping prescription drugs, delaying medical or dental treatment, delaying car repairs, receiving an eviction notice, and being homeless.
The report concluded that 43 percent of the respondents have experienced “at least three major indicators of poverty,” according to a Nov. 21 press release from SEIU. Most of the adjuncts who responded teach part time.
At last week’s rally, Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco said “this is ridiculous” while referring to the results of the report.
“It’s sad and pathetic. Professors, teachers are the people, the individuals, that are shaping and molding our children and students for the future,” said Maniscalco, who graduated from USF 10 years ago. “Without them, where would we be?”
Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp also spoke at the rally in support of the adjuncts.
“It’s time for the University of South Florida and HCC’s administrations to stand down and have an organized union among the adjuncts,” said Kemp. “I’m appalled by the conditions you all work under.”
Above photo caption: At a Nov. 29 rally on the Tampa campus, adjuncts rebuked USF System President Judy Genshaft and the university for fighting their efforts to hold a union election to form a collective bargaining unit. Nancy McCann | The Crow’s Nest