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Part-time professors at St. Thomas say no in unionization effort

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A broad effort to organize nontenured college instructors at private colleges in St. Paul saw a setback as adjunct instructors at the University of St. Thomas voted overwhelmingly against forming a union.

The Pioneer Press reported that the vote tally was 136-84. More than 250 part-time and nontenured faculty members were eligible to vote using mail-in ballots.

The Star Tribune noted that the rejection "dealt a setback to organizers of Adjunct Action, an offshoot of the Service Employees International Union, who had hoped to build momentum for a statewide effort to improve pay and benefits for part-time instructors." Working through the Service Employees International Union, Adjunct Action is behind a national effort to unionize adjunct professors, who often teach at multiple colleges to make a living because of their pay, lack of benefits, lack of job security and training.

Earlier this summer, adjunct professors at Hamline University in St. Paul overwhelmingly voted to become the state's first part-time professors to unionize. Adjunct faculty at Macalester College canceled a unionization vote in early June.

In the St. Thomas newsroom section of the university's website, a story noted that under law, the election results must be certified by the National Labor Relations Board before St. Thomas can resume its talks addressing adjunct faculty concerns. St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan said she is prepared to initiate an action plan that addresses adjunct faculty priorities following a seven-day period the NRLB requires for the election to be certified.

"We look forward to working together with you to find solutions to meet your needs and provide the best education for our students as we create one university where all members feel included, respected and valued for their contributions," Sullivan wrote in an email reported by the Pioneer Press. Prior to the vote, Sullivan had conducted half a dozen campus meetings, appealing to adjuncts to reject the union effort.

Union organizers issued a statement saying: “We are disappointed with the results of today’s election, but are incredibly proud of the gains this campaign achieved by bringing the reality faced by adjuncts at St. Thomas out of the shadows. By starting this process, we’ve initiated a long overdue dialogue with leadership at St. Thomas that has not happened for far too long.”

St. Thomas, which is one of the state's largest private universities, has more than 600 adjunct instructors in addition to its 466 full-time or tenure-track professors. Adjuncts teach about a fourth of the undergraduate classes, according to the university, with an average course load of three classes or fewer each year. The union vote was limited about 300 adjunct instructors who teach undergraduate students.

Nationally, the U.S. Education Department says that adjunct positions account for about 40 percent of college teaching staffs. In the past year, adjuncts have unionized at nearly a dozen universities, mostly in the east.

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