Northeastern Disorientation

Full-Time Faculty Deserve a Union

 · 3 mins read

For the past two years a group of full-time non-tenure track faculty* at Northeastern have been working to form a union. Ours wouldn’t be the first; our full-time non-tenure track colleagues at Tufts University, Boston University, and Brandeis University have already formed unions, as have those at Duke University, the University of Chicago, and many more institutions across the country. A union would allow full-time faculty to use our collective voice to negotiate stronger contracts with the university that would improve pay and teaching conditions, and hold Northeastern accountable to the surrounding community. These changes would directly benefit students, as well; improved teaching conditions mean improved learning conditions, and therefore an improved educational experience for every one of you.

Unfortunately, Northeastern’s administration doesn’t feel the same way. We twice filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold a vote on forming our union, and both times the university responded by challenging our right to hold that vote in the first place by arguing that full-time non-tenure track faculty are “managers” and therefore ineligible for organization. The manager categorization is patently absurd; for starters, we don’t have budgetary oversight or control over hiring and firing. The thing is, the university doesn’t really believe we do, either. Their position is a cynical legal strategy that allows them to block our attempts to unionize by forcing a hearing with the NLRB, and in doing so to challenge established legal precedent about the validity of higher education labor unions. And with the NLRB newly-stacked with Trump appointees who are hostile to labor rights, a decision against us could have dire consequences for our colleagues’ unions across the country. None of us wanted to be the first domino to fall in a wide swath of anti-unionization efforts, so we withdrew our petitions, once in November of 2018 and again in April of 2019, and continued to build support for our union, both on campus and in the greater Boston community.

Happily, we aren’t alone. Our supporters come from all ranks of the faculty, from our grad worker and part-time colleagues to tenured professors who can’t understand why the university wouldn’t even allow us to have a vote in the first place; they’re Northeastern students, like members of the Progressive Student Alliance, who have pushed back on the university’s insistence that we can’t organize and demanded President Aoun allow us to determine our own fate; they’re community groups, like Reclaim Roxbury, local trade unions, and fellow members of the NU for the Common Good** coalition, who understand that faculty must play a critical role in making Northeastern a good neighbor; they’re local and state politicians, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, who wrote letters of support urging the university to drop it’s absurd position. Both the Boston City Council and Northeastern Faculty Senate adopted resolutions urging the administration to let us hold a vote.

If the administration wanted to, it could reverse it’s stance tomorrow. It’s under no obligation, legal or otherwise, to stand in our way. And if they did, tomorrow would be the first day of a new Northeastern University, one that could be a model for sustainable employer-employee relationships for the 21st century. We’re ready when they are.

How can I support this campaign?

You can keep up with campaign updates by liking Northeastern University FT Non-Tenure Track Faculty on Facebook. To join the student solidarity campaign supporting faculty in this fight, reach out to Northeastern's Progressive Student Alliance.

*”full-time” means faculty who work on single or multi-year contracts; “non-tenure track” means positions that will never become permanent, or be granted the protections and freedoms of tenured faculty.

**NU for the Common Good is a coalition of students, workers, and community members who have a stake in making Northeastern a more socially responsible institution. We aim to build strong relationships between labor unions, student groups, and community organizations in order to identify and organize around issues that affect us all. By working together, we can ensure that Northeastern is a better educator, employer, and community member for everyone on and around campus. Check out our Facebook page @NUfortheCommonGood for campaign updates and to find out how you can get involved.