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Mills adjunct professors win historic contract deal

(Britt Hart) Mills adjuncts are celebrating gaining more equalized benefits after 18 months of negotiation between the College and SEIU.
(Britt Hart)
Mills adjuncts are celebrating gaining more equalized benefits after 18 months of negotiation between the College and SEIU.

Mills College adjuncts celebrated on March 18 when their union contract — 18 months in the making — was ratified by both the College and all union registered adjunct professors.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) contract included a guide on how to compensate professors based on the amount of time they have been teaching at Mills, access to health and retirement plans, course cancellation fees for if classes are cancelled less than 90 days ahead of the start of the class, and the right to a union steward and negotiations.

Adjunct Mills professor and member of the bargaining team, Bula Maddison, is pleased that she and other adjunct professors can feel protected by the union.

“There’s a certain security in knowing I can express myself, and if I get in trouble with the administration, I can take it to the National Labor Relations Board,” Maddison said.  “There’s some kind of guarantor in the workplace.”

Mills is one of five Bay Area colleges where adjunct professors have begun to unionize with SEIU, and the first of the five to ratify a contract. The other colleges are St. Mary’s College, Holy Names, Dominican College, California College of the Arts (CCA) and the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), all of which are currently in negotiations.

“[CCA is] unwilling to even cooperate with us. We’ve had to negotiate through a mediator, which is something we did not have to do at Mills,” SEIU Local 1021 Organizer Jonathan Nuñez-Babb said.

Adjuncts at Mills faced skewed salaries due to no equalizing aspect of contracts and salaries prior to this contract. Adjuncts are often paid by course but according to SEIU data, since there was no equalizer among adjuncts and departments, some adjuncts were being paid $4,000 per course while others were being paid $8,000 per course.

“Our goal was for the very top paid adjunct professor, someone who has been here a very long time, to get an entry level pay raise according to the entry level of a tenured faculty,” Nuñez-Babb said.

Both Maddison and Nuñez-Babb note that because the negotiation members had to work with three different provosts, Kim Phillips, Dave Donahue and Sharon Washington, it slowed down the process a little bit. But the three provosts had different things to bring to the table.

Nuñez-Babb said that working with Donahue and Washington may have been different, however they reached the same conclusions for an agreement about what was needed for a more just workplace environment.

“We were able to have frank discussions [with Donahue] and we felt like he was someone looking out for not only the College’s best interests, but also the faculty’s and students’ as well,” Nuñez-Babb said. “I think [Washington] has the same qualities. She is an interim provost, so we feel like her objective was to make things right.”

Washington was pleased with what the negotiations led to, saying the contract will help adjuncts gain better pay and job stability.

“Adjunct faculty are an essential part of the Mills community and I am grateful for the opportunity to have deepened my understanding their varied roles,” Washington said in an email.

The next steps for everyone involved are aspects of implementation. According to Nunez-Babb, the main step is making sure that the correct information is sent back and forth between the union and the college regarding the amount of classes that professors have taught and how long they have been at Mills.

“There are a lot of practical questions that come into play because we have this contract that is abstract and we have to put it into practice. Now we have to rely on the union and the faculty to enforce the contract,” Nunez-Babb said.

Another main aspect of contract implementation involves making sure all those affected by the contract are informed of the changes and of any questions they may have. There will be a union liaison who works with Human Resources who will also be able to answer questions that come up during the implementation process.

“Without the public support from students, staff and fellow faculty, the adjunct professors union would not have been able to achieve this historic contract,” Mills adjunct and union spokesman David Buuck said. “We now have formal recognition of the committed work we do here at Mills, which will allow both adjunct faculty and the administration to build a longer-term relationship of shared respect, professional support and fair pay.”

Nuñez-Babb echoed Buuck’s sentiments, saying that Mills is paving the way for more equal treatment in college workplaces across the country.

“Faculty at Mills are setting a standard, not just in the Bay Area, but across the country and that is something that I am very proud of. Once again Mills is a leader, but this time in terms of faculty respect and stability and putting students’ interests at play with their own interests,” Nunez-Babb said.