The current contract for the Mills Adjunct Faculty Union is set to expire this summer, and their bargaining team is currently in negotiations on a second one, which will last for another three years. Five years ago, the Mills adjunct faculty unionized and their union contract was ratified, going into effect March 2016.
“Our work with the College is more about fine tuning the successful first contract and clarifying some areas of possible ambiguity given the changes the College has gone through and anticipates in the current economic climate,” David Buuck, adjunct assistant professor of English and member of the bargaining team, said in an email. “[We are] looking to ensure that all adjuncts are treated with the same professional recognition and respect as our tenured and tenure track peers, as we are also deeply committed to Mills and its future.”
Adjunct faculty, he explained, are “often contracted one or two semesters at a time (though more senior adjuncts now can receive a two or three year contract), at a lower pay scale,” unlike tenured or tenure track faculty.
But Buuck, like many adjunct professors, has taught at Mills for nearly a decade. Adjuncts at Mills are rooted in the community of the College and sometimes take on leadership or advising roles in addition to their teaching positions.
According to Buuck, over half of the faculty at Mills are adjuncts, and they teach around 40% of the classes.
The issues faced by most adjuncts — low pay and lack of job security and benefits, among others — are not unique to Mills, and throughout the nation, adjuncts are organizing and demanding improved working conditions and longer term stability as universities shift to employing more contingent labor.
The Mills Adjunct Faculty Union is a part of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents service workers, nurses and teachers, among others. According to their website, SEIU is “an organization of two million members united by the belief in the dignity and worth of workers and the services they provide and dedicated to improving the lives of workers and their families and creating a more just and humane society.”
Buuck added that “[The Mills] union contract stands [as] a model for several other Bay Area private colleges as how the administration can work with and support its faculty at all levels, with respect and fair compensation.”
Since 2014, SEIU 1021 has organized adjuncts at other private colleges in the area, such as St. Mary’s, Dominican University, California College of the Arts, San Francisco Art Institute and Holy Names University. Together, they make up SEIU 1021.
“Of the bargaining team, we felt that [compensation] was the most important thing, to get everybody up to something,” Bula Maddison, an adjunct professor who has taught at Mills for nearly 13 years, said.
The initial CBA resulted in an average pay raise of over 10% for adjuncts, a process for seniority and advancement and the establishment of a labor management committee, among other provisions.
“Under the circumstances, I thought we did well,” Maddison said. “And let it be said that tenured faculty salaries are also very, very under, because they’ve been cut and nothing’s been restored.”
She explained that tenured and tenure track faculty members have shown a great deal of support towards adjuncts.
“It’s not like us against them,” Maddison said.
For Maddison, even more important than compensation is the recognition of adjunct faculty as equals to tenured and tenure track faculty. Although the demand was not met in the initial agreement, she kept pushing for a permanent seat for adjuncts on the Faculty Executive Board (FEC), which serves as a tool for communication and governance between the faculty and the administration.
“My point has always been that adjuncts, too, are faculty,” Maddison said. “We don’t need the FEC to have a position for ourselves, but to me, we need it to slowly become perceived as more part of the faculty.”
She did not give up this hope and eventually won a seat for an adjunct on the board.
“Thanks to Mark Henderson who helped, paperwork was written, it was voted on by the faculty and then the board … and now it’s for real,” Maddison said.
Maddison, who was a member of the bargaining team in 2014, will not be involved this time around. But she remains a loyal member of the union.
“I’m 76, it’s time for me to pick flowers,” she said, referring to the large bouquet of pink and purple sweet peas from her garden at home.
Buuck, on the other hand, is at the forefront and ready to lead. He hopes that the second CBA will be as successful as — if not more than — the first. Both he and Maddison agree that the process at Mills has been positive, amiable and effective.
“One sign of how well our union contract has served our adjunct faculty — and, I’d argue, Mills in general — is that our current negotiations with Mills have been going smoothly and amicably, as well all work together towards building a stronger Mills, where support [for] teachers also supports students and the larger Mills mission,” Buuck said.
Maddison expressed her respect for Mills and its commitment to justice.
“The one thing we can count on I think, is that commitment … We’re not always happy with how it’s implemented, but it’s a strong current at Mills, and I think it goes right up to the top,” Maddison said.
In the past, students have shown support for adjunct professors. Many adjuncts have lasting relationships and mentorships with students because of their long histories and deep involvement with Mills. Some adjuncts have taken on roles as advisors and mentors for their students, even when such work is not necessarily compensated.
Besides being aware and informed of these events, there are other ways students can show support for their adjunct professors this time around.
“Keep your ears open, because if we need help — if we need your support, we’ll ask for it … through the Campanil, through email, through whatever vehicles we can find,” Maddison said. “When we’ve had [student support] before, we have deeply appreciated it.”
Buuck, as well as some other adjuncts and community members, display “We [heart] adjuncts” stickers on their doors and personal items. He expressed that even this small display of solidarity goes a long way.
“I’ve been heartened to see students show support for their professors, and hope that at the very least students learn more about adjunct labor in the academy, and support Mills adjunct professors (and staff) who help make Mills what it is,” Buuck said.