Hillsborough Community College Adjunct Faculty Overwhelmingly Vote to Join SEIU

In an important victory for faculty across the nation, part-time faculty at Hillsborough Community College (HCC) in Tampa have overwhelmingly voted to join SEIU Florida Public Service Union and contingent faculty across the country in a union movement. The faculty voted 2 to 1 in favor of a union.

The victory marks the first faculty union election in Florida, and at a public university in the South, with SEIU. HCC adjuncts will join over 13,000 college instructors across the country who have joined SEIU in the past three years, from community colleges to universities ranked in the top 10 of U.S. News Ranking of national universities. Votes for the all-mail ballot election were counted at the Public Employee Relations Commission in Tallahassee.

Faculty at HCC are the latest to join what has become a fast-growing union movement, as faculty at more than 50 campuses have come together to take on a crisis in higher education. “Contingent faculty across the country are joining together in this union movement because we are concerned about the future of our profession,” said Cheryl DeFlavis, an instructor in at HCC. “Roughly a third of part-time faculty at public universities in Florida live at or near the poverty level. At the same time, our state is spending 20 percent less, per pupil, on higher education than we did before the recession. We voted yes because there’s an urgent need to fight for our students, our families and turn higher education around. I know the collective power of a union can improve working conditions for my colleagues, improve learning conditions for my students and fight for the resources to restore the promise of a college education.”

The election at HCC follows a new study that explores how difficult it is for an adjunct instructor in Florida to afford basic necessities like housing, health care and food. The report called the High Cost of Adjunct Living: Florida, finds that 46 percent of all faculty members in Florida, and nearly 4,600 people in the Tampa area, work as college instructors on a part-time basis. The median pay per course in the Southeast region of the United States was $1,800 for associate’s level courses at public institutions and $2,800 for doctoral level courses at private not-for-profit institutions. This is below the national average and means an adjunct teaching 12 courses a year—an extraordinary, but not uncommon, course load—may have an annual income of just $21,600. Other findings include:

  • An adjunct professor must teach between twenty-two and thirty-four classes a year to afford the median rental housing in Florida.
  • An adjunct professor would need to teach up to nine classes per year to cover the cost of groceries for a family.
  • An adjunct professor would need to teach eleven to sixteen classes to afford the average cost for care for a heart attack at Florida hospitals.

Both public and private universities depend increasingly on adjunct instructors, graduate assistants and other non-tenured workers for instruction and research with nearly 70 percent of all professors on college campuses in non-tenure track positions. Adjunct instructors are on the front lines of teaching across every department at major universities, but 27 percent in Florida live near or below the poverty line and often are paid just a few thousand dollars per course. One in four families of part-time faculty members rely on public assistance for food and healthcare, including 31 percent in Florida.

A day earlier, part-time and full-time contingent faculty at Augsburg College in Minneapolis voted to form a union with SEIU Local 284 and on November 10th, non-tenured faculty at the University of Hartford in Connecticut and graduate student employees at Duke University filed for a union election with SEIU. In just the past three years, tenured professors, contingent faculty and graduate workers at campuses across the country, including the University of Chicago, Duke, University of Minnesota and Georgetown, have won or launched campaigns to win better pay and a union. Washington University in St. Louis adjunct faculty will receive up to a 26 percent raise over the next four academic years, while full-time lecturers at Tufts have won more meaningful faculty promotions, including longer, more secure appointments.

“Adjunct faculty love teaching and preparing students for their future; We need job security and fair wages that enable us to dedicate more time to our profession. My colleagues at USF are excited about HCC’s victory today, and the growing union movement in higher education. Their win is also a victory for me, my family, my students and for all Tampa colleges and university faculty who are uniting for change, ” said University of South Florida part-time faculty member Greg McCreery.