Office of the Provost

Contingent Faculty Information

Making Progress Without a Union

With a union, who would speak for the University on matters pertaining to contingent faculty, and how would this impact faculty-driven initiatives for contingent faculty?

The administration would speak for the University in bargaining over contingent faculty issues. The Faculty Assembly’s voice would be silenced on all matters pertaining to contingent faculty because those matters would be bargained. The authority to speak for the university on these issues (to “bargain”) would fall to the administration. The Faculty Assembly would act only on those things that affect only tenure-line faculty. Individual divisions, schools or task forces could not pursue the kind of contingent faculty initiatives that were underway but are now “on hold” because those matters would instead be bargained between the administration and the union.

What were the initiatives underway prior to the union filing its petition?

There were three: (a) a faculty-driven initiative aimed at improving compensation for all faculty that led to a Board of Regents resolution in May 2013; (b) a faculty-driven initiative in the Division of Humanities that led to the adoption in March 2013 of a statement of principles and best practices for contingent faculty in Humanities; (c) a faculty task force that studied the issues involving PLU contingent faculty campus-wide and filed a report in May 2013.

Is there a plan in place to improve faculty compensation?

Yes. In May 2013, as a result of a faculty initiative, the Board of Regents adopted a plan for improving faculty and staff compensation. A copy of that resolution is on the Provost website.

The adoption of the resolution was an historic step for the Board to take, and it culminates the work of the Faculty Affairs Committee in bringing this issue to the highest levels. Our success in implementing this plan and improving compensation for all faculty will depend on our ability to create new sources of revenue. This initiative is moving forward, and everyone will benefit if we are successful. A union will not change this, but a union will add costs to doing business.

Would a union help with this plan to improve compensation?

No. The union will do nothing to help us put this plan in place. The union will not help us raise new revenue; in fact the costs associated with the collective bargaining process will drain university resources away from this initiative. Union dues will offset the positive effects of salary increases for our contingent faculty. The union will not improve the quality of our education, nor will it help improve faculty compensation.

What was the faculty initiative in the Humanities Division?

Starting in fall 2012 – six months before the union filed its petition – the faculty in the Division of Humanities began deliberations on contingent faculty issues. In March 2013 the Humanities faculty adopted a “Statement of Principles and Best Practices Relating to Contingent Faculty.” It is meant to guide Division practices in a manner consistent with the faculty handbook. See the Provost website for a copy of this statement.

Would the Humanities Division statement of best practices remain in effect under a union contract?

No. A union contract would specify the rules regarding wages, hours and working conditions for all contingent faculty.  To the extent that any policy or best practice was different than the union contract, the law provides that the union contract would override it. Moreover, the administration, not the Faculty Assembly nor any subgroup of faculty within the university, would represent the University in bargaining. No one can promise how bargaining comes out but it is certain that a union contract would override existing PLU policy if the two were different.

What was the Task Force that dealt with campus-wide issues and how was it created?

In the Spring of 2012 – a full year before the union filed its petition – the provost began discussions with key faculty members about issues involving contingent faculty. During the summer and fall of 2012, the provost worked with several interested faculty on putting together the best approach to address contingent faculty concerns. He consulted with faculty leaders and members of key faculty committees, and there was a wide range of opinion on how best to proceed. The task force got rolling early in 2013, with the charge from the provost to issue a report by May 31, which they did. The report may be found on the Provost website.

What are some of the recommendations of the Task Force?

The Task Force’s main recommendations are in three categories: 1) build into our faculty governance system a more effective means of consulting contingent faculty on matters that affect them; 2) put more contingent faculty policies into the faculty handbook; and 3) require each school and division to adopt its own set of specific policies and best practices. The full report is on the Provost website.

Would implementing these recommendations be possible under a union contract?

No. By law, the union would be the representative of all contingent faculty.  The “terms and conditions of employment” for a contingent faculty member would have to be negotiated with the union. Our faculty governance system, the Faculty Assembly, the faculty committees, and the individual academic units would be prohibited from unilaterally adopting or implementing any policies pertaining to contingent faculty because all such policies must be negotiated with the union. The faculty handbook – a document that describes our shared governance system and is approved by the Faculty Assembly – would be superseded by a union contract as to contingent faculty.

What’s going to happen to the Task Force recommendations?

We’d like to move forward on them for wider discussion and consideration, but whether we can or not will depend on the outcome of the union election.

If the union wins, our system of shared governance will end abruptly on all matters pertaining to contingent faculty and we enter a new and unpredictable era of collective bargaining. The Task  Force report could not serve as a basis for an agreement, because much of that report makes reference to  the Faculty Assembly’s ability to enact policy.  If the union wins, the Faculty Assembly no longer has that ability, because such “policies” must be bargained.

If the union loses, we pick up where we left off before we were interrupted by the union petition. We would submit those recommendations to the PLU community through the normal process – a  process where everyone can participate in the conversation free of charge, and without third party interference.

What would a union contract contain?

Voting in a union only requires a negotiation. It does not require the two sides to agree to any particular terms. A union contract, if one was successfully negotiated,  would speak to wages, hours and working conditions for contingent faculty. There is no guarantee – and no one can promise – what specific provisions a union contract would contain. The most likely provision would be a requirement that all contingent faculty pay union dues, with most of our faculty likely paying hundreds of dollars per year, and many paying perhaps over $1,000 per year in union dues. See the earlier FAQ on union dues.

When is the election, how will it be conducted, who will be affected, and who can vote?

New ballots replacing the old ones mistakenly sent earlier by NLRB will be sent to all eligible contingent faculty voters on September 19. The results of the union election will be determined by the majority of votes cast. Ballots must be returned (not just postmarked) to NLRB no later than October 10 at 1:00 pm. All contingent faculty will be affected by the outcome of the vote regardless of whether they voted or were eligible to vote under the rules of voter eligibility established by the NLRB. There is no ability to “opt out” if the union wins the election.  The list of eligible voters and the criteria for eligibility that NLRB used in creating the list are posted on the Provost website.

The University's Position on a Contingent Faculty Union

What is the University’s Position on a Contingent Faculty Union?

Many contingent faculty have asked what the University’s position is regarding the possible formation of a contingent faculty union at PLU under the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

The PLU administration opposes SEIU’s efforts to form a contingent faculty union on our campus. In considering this issue, we have asked three questions: (1) would SEIU be good for the quality of education; (2) would SEIU be good for our students, and (3) would SEIU be good for our faculty? This FAQ provides more detail as to why we oppose this union.

Why is the Administration opposed to this contingent faculty union?

The Administration has concluded that this proposed contingent faculty union is a very bad idea for three primary reasons. First, SEIU typically takes a very adversarial and confrontational approach to collective bargaining and we are very concerned that this approach will radically change our campus culture. Second, we do not believe that putting a third party between PLU and our contingent faculty will result in any material economic gain for our contingent faculty, or at least no gain that would be sufficient to offset the significant cost to our contingent faculty of having to pay union dues. Third we believe our existing collaborative process that has led to initiatives already under way is a better approach toward addressing faculty issues at PLU.

Does that make the Administration anti-union?

No. We understand and agree that unions have an appropriate place in American society. Indeed, the University has longstanding and productive relationships with many members of the labor community. In this specific situation, however, we do not support this union’s attempt to organize our contingent faculty

Who is SEIU and what do they do?

We encourage you to do your own research about SEIU. Read the results of a Google search about SEIU’s bargaining with Sodexo on college campuses or with Kaiser in California. Google “SEIU bargaining tactics.” There is a lot written on all of these topics from many political perspectives, but a consistent theme is a very adversarial and confrontational approach by SEIU.

Closer to home, SEIU Local 503 has been bargaining with the University of Oregon system. The “University Workers” tab on the SEIU website ( starts with a picture of a banner entitled

“NO CONTRACT? NO PEACE!” and describes the bargaining process as a “fight” with “management” in which faculty are asked to “take sides.” SEIU has stated its plans to go on strike. You can read about their strike planning at the same link.

When you do your own research, we are confident you will find SEIU’s approach to be extremely adversarial.

How could this approach impact PLU?

We see many possible negatives (and no positives) from this approach. Legally, our faculty will be divided into two separate groups. Contingent faculty would be represented by SEIU and governed by a union contract, while our tenure-line faculty would continue to be governed by the Faculty Assembly. We see this as being very divisive for our faculty, and we have seen no evidence to suggest that this approach by SEIU can improve the quality of teaching and learning; in fact, we think it may hurt the quality of the education we provide to our students.

Does SEIU understand PLU?

No. SEIU routinely refers to faculty as “workers” and the administration as “management.” They don’t understand the collaborative process by which academic decisions are made at PLU. In the NLRB hearing, SEIU also argued that all contingent faculty were the same, thereby disrespecting the unique differences that exist among our several different contingent faculty communities whose needs and expectations are all different. Perhaps worst of all, SEIU also argued that there is no difference between our mission statement and the mission statement of the UW or Michigan State. SEIU’s view has been that all universities are the same – that there are no unique qualities that set us apart from any other school – and that all faculty are “workers.” There has been no recognition of the unique qualities that make PLU the special place that it is.

What are we trying to preserve at PLU?

All faculty at PLU – whether contingent or tenure-track – pursue our craft in a collegial environment. Our students surprise us every day with new insights and tough questions, and our highly accomplished faculty colleagues help us grow and learn even as we teach and share our love of learning. To us, the life of the mind is a profession, a craft and a vocation. We do not see any appreciation for the life of the mind in the published materials put out by SEIU or in its history. The approach it has taken at other institutions reflects a very different and adversarial approach. Please visit the website to get a flavor of this.

It invokes great sadness to think of our campus and our profession as a battleground. Our culture at PLU is one of rigorous inquiry, dialogue, debate, and care for one another. Members of our faculty have been working very hard on policies and positions which will continue to strengthen the fairness and respect with which we view our contingent faculty colleagues. Having an outside organization that does not understand our University is not going to be helpful to a collaborative approach to the issues.

But won’t contingent faculty get more money if SEIU comes in?

No. Although some people who are pushing the union effort seem to think there is a hidden pot of money available for contingent faculty, it is just not true. However, there is a new university initiative already underway to enhance faculty compensation, and all faculty – tenure-line and contingent – would benefit. Having a union contributes nothing to that university initiative, and having a union does not mean more money.

What happens if there is a union?

Having a union simply means that wages, hours and working conditions will be determined through collective bargaining between a union and the University administration rather than handled through our shared governance system. There is no guarantee that having a union means more money for contingent faculty. Bargaining could mean more, less or the same compensation as contingent faculty would receive without bargaining. Most academic studies show no significant difference in pay and benefits with or without a union, and certainly not a large enough gain to offset the cost of union dues.

If SEIU comes in, can a contingent faculty member “opt out?"

No. If SEIU is voted in, then it becomes the legal bargaining representative for all contingent faculty. PLU is required by law to only deal with SEIU on “wages, hours and working conditions” for all contingent faculty. There is no way for any individual contingent faculty member to “opt out.”

If SEIU comes in, will contingent faculty have to pay union dues?

Almost certainly, yes. Unions always demand in bargaining a clause that requires all covered employees (here, all contingent faculty) to join the union and pay dues. If such a clause were bargained in, then all contingent faculty would be legally obligated to pay union dues.

How much are union dues?

We understand SEIU usually charges 1.5-2.0% of the person’s annual salary, plus a monthly fee. For someone making $20,000 per year, that’s at least $350 per year in union dues. As each contingent faculty member considers how to vote, they should ask:
“What can I get for hundreds of dollars per year that I can’t already get for free by participating in the collaborative process already in place at PLU?” That’s a question we hope contingent faculty will answer very carefully before voting for a union and paying dues.

What is the process from here?

In mid-September, the contingent faculty who are eligible to vote (see the Provost website for a list) will receive a ballot from the NLRB to vote on this important issue. Like any political election, the outcome will be decided by a majority of the votes actually cast. If only 20 people vote, and 11 vote for the union, then all contingent faculty will be represented by the union.

Therefore, it is important that you mail your ballot back to the NLRB. The election is by secret ballot so no one will know how you vote. Over the next few weeks, we will provide you with more information to help you make this important decision. We are certain that the union will campaign for your vote. Above all, we want you to make an informed decision. We want you to do your own research and to have conversations with your chair, your dean or another trusted colleague. If they cannot provide the information you need, let us know and we will get it to you. Our goal in this process is to provide factual information so that you can decide for yourself what is in your best interest and in the best interest of Pacific Lutheran University.

How Would ``Collective Bargaining`` Work at PLU, How Might It Affect the Way We Make Decisions, and What Kind of Dues Might Our Faculty Have to Pay?

How does collective bargaining work?

Collective bargaining is another term for a negotiation. If SEIU becomes the legal bargaining representative for contingent faculty, then the PLU administration would meet with the union to negotiate over wages and other terms of employment. While both parties have an obligation to bargain in good faith, neither party has an obligation to accept any specific terms. There is no hidden pot of money available for contingent faculty. PLU would have to be certain that the pay and benefits for contingent faculty agreed to in negotiation is in the University’s long term best interest. This is exactly what we do now. There is no reason to believe that this would be any different with a union.

Will I get more money if there’s a union?

No. Voting in a union only requires a negotiation. That does not mean more money. The results of that negotiation could be the same, worse or better than what contingent faculty have now. It would depend on individual circumstances and the outcome of negotiation. This is particularly true in this current situation at PLU where the NLRB has combined a wide range of different contingent faculty groups into the same bargaining unit. No one can promise or guarantee how this negotiation would turn out.

Does SEIU have its own interests in negotiation?

Yes. At the top of the list of the union’s priorities will be a contract requirement that all contingent faculty join the union and pay union dues. Experience has shown that unions make this clause their highest priority in negotiations. Unions have even traded away better pay for their members in exchange for a requirement that everyone has to join the union and pay dues. This clause benefits the union, not our faculty. Experience suggests that SEIU will have little regard for individual faculty at the expense of their own interests.

How will collective bargaining work for the different contingent faculty classifications?

We don’t know. PLU contingent faculty range from those who teach full time and receive full benefits to faculty who teach on a per course or hourly basis. “They all teach” was the union’s argument as to why these diverse groups should be combined into one unit, ignoring the differences in the needs and expectations of our contingent faculty. This aligns with their view that all faculty are “workers.”

What can the union offer PLU’s contingent faculty?

Campaign promises. Where they have successfully negotiated contracts for contingent faculty at other schools, SEIU’s so-called “victories” have usually resulted in less than what PLU contingent faculty already have in salary and benefits.

Are there any guarantees with a union?

The highest certainty if a union comes to PLU will be a requirement that our contingent faculty will have to pay union dues. Unions always ask for a provision that would require employees to pay union dues. If such a provision were in a contract, then all contingent faculty would pay union dues, even if they teach only one class or do not favor the union. There is no ability to “opt out” if such a contract clause were in place.

How much are union dues?

Based on the dues SEIU charges contingent faculty at other places, dues are likely to be 1.5-2.0% of the person’s annual salary, plus a monthly fee.
•    Senior lecturers in music are paid over $50 per hour and teach slightly over 200 hours per year. Their dues could be $200 per year.
•    A person teaching two courses per year at PLU on a course-by-course basis could pay about $200 per year.
•    Many of our full-time contingent faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences could pay $1,000 per year or more.
•    Many of our full-time contingent faculty in Nursing and Business could pay well over $1,000 per year.
“What can I get for those high union dues that I can’t already get for free by taking part in the collaborative process we have in place at PLU?” That’s the question we hope all contingent faculty will answer before voting for the union.

How might voting in a union affect PLU’s faculty culture?

If a contingent faculty union is voted in, PLU faculty would be divided–legally–into two separate groups: those who are governed by the faculty handbook, and those who would be subject to the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. This could permanently “lock in” a potential for divisiveness within the faculty or within a department or school. We do not think dividing faculty in this way is in anyone’s best interest.

How might the presence of a union affect future decision making?

SEIU would become the legal representative of our contingent faculty. We would have to go through the union on all matters involving wages, hours and working conditions. SEIU would have the legal authority to make decisions on behalf of our contingent faculty. This raises two concerns for us.

First, individual contingent faculty could no longer negotiate contracts or terms of employment with their deans or chairs. Instead, by law, those discussions must be with SEIU – and then only between the PLU administration and SEIU. We would regret the loss of collegiality and flexibility we think this change would cause.

Second, we envision the need to centralize decision making in order to manage the academic program under a union contract. If there is a single contract covering all contingent faculty, deans and chairs will likely have significantly less discretion than they do now with regard to staffing the curriculum, for example. While we cannot predict how bargaining would come out, the most likely scenarios we see would require the central administration to manage the union contract, not deans and chairs.

How else might the presence of a contingent faculty union cause a shift in decision making away from faculty, deans and chairs, and toward the central administration in setting policies?

The Faculty Assembly could no longer make decisions covering all faculty. “Working conditions” – things like office hours, office space and perhaps many other academic policies that affect all faculty could no longer be decided by the Faculty Assembly for all faculty. Most universities don’t have the kind of faculty engagement in setting policy that we have at PLU. In fact, our system is rare, and the union does not understand it.

We have a collegial community, and when problems arise we talk through them and work them out within our system of shared governance. Tearing that system apart into two separate pieces will bring about a major change in our faculty culture and the way we conduct business, and it’s not clear there is an upside for anyone on the faculty, either contingent or tenure-line.

The union isn’t accustomed to this kind of place. They don’t understand us. Their instincts are to be adversarial; our instincts are to be collaborative. An adversarial, divided, two-track system would damage our collegiality and hamper open communication among faculty, and between contingent faculty and their chair or dean. That would not help anyone.

Whether we can continue with the steps that were underway to address the concerns of our contingent faculty prior to the union filing its petition will depend on the outcome of the election.

We want you to understand what collective bargaining is, how it works and what its impact might be before you decide whether to vote to insert SEIU into the PLU campus community. There is also a lot of information about collective bargaining available on line. Do your own research if you have questions. No matter what source you trust, you will find that no one can guarantee what will happen in bargaining. If someone tells you differently, ask them to put that promise in writing. They will not do so, because no one can.