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Part-time GW faculty seek union

(Published September 6, 1999)

By OSCAR ABEYTA

Staff Writer

Graduate students and part-time faculty at George Washington University are mounting an effort to unionize in order to try to get better job security, health benefits and working conditions.

Nearly 70 percent of the faculty at the university are employed part time and they teach 40 percent of the courses there, yet they have no health insurance and are hired on a semester-to-semester basis which leaves them with little job security, organizers say.

"For more than 10 years, part-time faculty and teaching assistants have been working to try to improve their employment situation at the university, and the effort has been particularly intense during the past five years," organizer Jonathan White said.

Frustrated by the lack of response from the administration, organizers formed the Graduate Teaching Assistant-Adjunct Alliance (GTAAA), which has been working with the United Auto Workers (UAW) to try to win collective bargaining rights for the part-time teachers.

White said the universityís administration has tried to prevent the GTAAA from handing out literature about their unionizing efforts on campus and has criticized them publicly for not communicating with them about their concerns.

After a rally on campus Aug. 21, university Vice President Donald Lehman agreed to meet with organizers on Aug. 27 but cancelled the meeting the night before. White said when he called Lehmanís office to try to reschedule he was told that the vice president would not be meeting with them.

"We think itís ironic that after they publicly announced that they would meet with us, and criticized us for not meeting with them earlier, that they would cancel the meeting," White said.

In response to questions regarding the GTAAA unionizing efforts, university spokeswoman Barbara Porter issued a one-sentence statement that said, "We regret the confusion over the earlier scheduled meeting, but now that itís clear weíre dealing with a unionization effort, there are a host of duties and responsibilities the administration must be aware of."

Lehman could not be contacted for comment.

White said there are about 25 colleges and universities across the country where the teaching assistants and part-time faculty have successfully unionized, including the University of Iowa, the University of Florida and the entire University of California system.

White said the group hopes to secure more job security, access to a health care plan and retirement benefits. He said graduate student teachers get paid about $8,000 a year and have to teach two-thirds as many classes as full-time faculty. Aside from that, he said improvements in basic working conditions, such as access to computers and adequate office space, are also a primary concern.

"Every time weíve gone into a new department to talk to people, we have been consistently surprised with how eager people have been for the union," White said.

In order to unionize, organizers have to get the support of more than half of the part-time faculty and teaching assistants who would be represented by the union and then demand recognition from the university as the collective bargaining unit by winning majority support in a federally supervised vote of the proposed union membership. White said the group is not working under any set timetable.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator