Transforming Higher Education

Movement Milestones and Victories

We’re working to improve learning and teaching conditions and access to higher education, while standing up to end the trend toward a low-road, corporate-business model for education. More than 50,000 faculty and graduate workers are already united through SEIU Faculty Forward. Every day more educators, students and community members across the country are joining our fight to transform higher education. Here’s a look at what we’ve accomplished together so far.

2019 Victories

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Iowa workers talk Unions for All with Joe Biden

Low wage workers in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, hosted former Vice President Joe Biden for a roundtable discussion with coffee, pie and the Unions for All demand. At the kitchen table of a worker’s home, Biden was presented with questions centering around the need for good union jobs in Iowa. The discussion included McDonald’s fast food workers in the Fight for $15 and a Union movement, an adjunct professor with Faculty Forward and a home care/Head Start worker.

Landon Elkind, an assistant professor at the University of Iowa, had a powerful exchange with Biden on how to support union rights for adjunct faculty in order to address workplace conditions and other issues professors face. Biden talked about his support of sectoral bargaining and what he would do to make it easier for people to join unions.

Sara Haugse, a home care worker who works a second job as a Head Start teacher, pushed Biden on his stance on workers making a decent wage, so they don’t have to manage multiple jobs to make ends meet. The former Vice President responded, saying he understands unions are powerful leverage that working people have to get big corporations and employers to listen.

  • Check out this powerful video of Iowa workers and their Unions For All fight!

Read More Dec 13, 2019
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Elon University Adjunct Professors celebrate their union and demand a fair contract

Yesterday, over 100 adjunct professors, full-time and tenured colleagues, students, alumni and community members gathered to deliver a special message to the university administration: Elon University must live up to its stated ideals, respect the voices of its adjunct and contingent educators, and bargain NOW. Adjunct professors at Elon University overwhelmingly voted to form their union with SEIU Workers United Southern Region back in March of this year. Since then, the administration has moved to strip all adjunct faculty of the right to a union by claiming that legally they are managers.

“We unionized because we deserve a seat at the table,” said Sarah Bloesch, an adjunct assistant professor of religious studies at Elon and a member of the union’s organizing committee. “We want to belong — and not just belong but be recognized as critical and important to this university.”

Yesterday’s rally marked the one year anniversary where faculty publicly launched their union campaign with strong community support. In a big move, a member of a prominent alumni donor family pledged that they will continue to withhold all donations until the administration recognizes and bargains with the adjuncts.

"One real way I can encourage this administration to do the right thing and recognize this union is to say clearly that I am withholding any and all potential donations,” said John Kernodle, an Elon alum, on behalf of the full philanthropic Kernodle family, all of whom are withholding donations. “I want the administration to know that I will not give again until this union is recognized and the bargaining process ends."

Read more in The News & Record, Elon News Network and Facebook.

Read More Dec 06, 2019
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Graduate workers in cities across the country take to the streets for union rights

Graduate workers in Chicago, Boston and Washington, DC took to the streets Thursday to reject a proposed rule from President Trump’s National Labor Relations Board that would strip them of their right to a union. The graduate workers, who are part of a multi-union coalition to fight the rule, hand delivered nearly 30,000 comments opposing the draft rule to the NLRB. Once there, they blockaded the front entrance demanding to meet with Board members.

“This isn’t just about graduate workers," Lacy Murphy, a graduate worker at Washington University in St. Louis, told the group. "This is part of a bigger plan to strip those of us who work for a living of our right to stand together to make change. We won’t sit by quietly as this administration whittles away our right to a union.”

Meanwhile, across town, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) introduced the Respect Graduate Student Workers Act, which prohibits the Board from enacting the rule. The bill seeks to ensure full labor protections for graduate student workers—no matter the educational relationship between employees and a college or university.

Read More Nov 15, 2019
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FL has become a hotbed of academic organizing: Adjunct profs need more than poverty wages

One week after St. Petersburg College adjunct professors became the seventh group in Florida to form their union, adjunct professors are making the case as to why adjuncts need Unions for All. Christina Alexander has been an adjunct professor for over ten years. During her time teaching, Alexander has seen the root causes of why overworked and low-paid professors across the Florida College System are forming their unions: lack of voice on the job, lack of job stability, no benefits and low pay. In her op-ed, Alexander explains:

“Despite being a conservative, right-to-work state, Florida has become a hotbed of academic organizing. Nearly 9,500 adjunct professors in Florida have formed or are about to vote for their union. This growing wave of higher education organizing confirms what most of us in the classrooms already knew: higher education in our state is in need of reform.”

“Many of our adjunct faculty members say they’re teetering on the brink of poverty and even visit food banks to supplement their livelihood during long periods between paychecks. These circumstances do not serve our students, who continue to pay rising tuition while adjunct professors struggle. That’s why we need to make it easier for adjuncts in Florida and other states to form unions.”

“As the issue of college affordability continues to come up, lawmakers working on serious legislation must include a voice on the job for educators. Otherwise we’ll be left wondering about how secure our economic future will be — for current adjuncts and future generations of students and educators.”

Read the entire op-ed in the Florida Phoenix.

Read More Nov 01, 2019
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Nazareth College Adjunct Faculty Vote Overwhelmingly to Ratify First Union Contract

Part-time non-tenure-track faculty at Nazareth College voted overwhelmingly to ratify their first union contract on Tuesday and Wednesday. The collective bargaining agreement makes significant improvements to the conditions of adjunct faculty through wage increases amounting to nearly 50 percent for the majority of adjuncts, longer term appointments which allow for increased student continuity, professional development funding, course cancellation fees, and further inclusion in the academic community through allowances for participation in departmental and college wide affairs.

“This agreement will alleviate the anxiety of adjuncts like myself who semester to semester have not been sure if we will have a contract to continue working at the college, said Colleen Wolf, Nazareth School of Music adjunct faculty and union bargaining committee member. “Having longer contracts and better pay will allow us to plan for our futures and our families’ futures. This agreement also lets us better serve our students, the increased stability it will provide will allow us to be more available for them and provide further consistency for the student body.”

The contract comes nearly a year and a half after Nazareth adjunct faculty formed their union with SEIU Local 200United / Faculty Forward in June 2018, and follows a wave of over three thousand adjunct and contingent faculty unionizing with SEIU Local 200United at twelve universities across New York State and Vermont since 2014.

Read more: WXXI News.

Read More Oct 23, 2019
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Party in the Sunshine State: St. Petersburg College adjuncts vote YES! for their union

Florida’s higher education campaign is bringing the heat to the Florida College System as adjunct professors at St. Petersburg College have voted overwhelmingly to form their union. They are now the seventh group of adjuncts in three years to form their union with SEIU Florida Public Services Union.

“Today, we have taken an important step towards achieving fairness at St. Petersburg College,” said Eron Higgins, an adjunct professor of earth science at St. Petersburg College. “Adjuncts teach the majority of classes at St. Petersburg College, yet many of us can’t cover the basics. It’s time for us to come together and ensure that adjunct faculty can earn a living, while providing students a great education.”

Ahead of the election, several St. Petersburg College adjunct professors were featured in an in-depth piece on the nearly 9,500 adjunct professors in Florida that have formed, or are in the process of forming, their union. While attending the National Forum on Wages and Working People, Angela Edwards-Luckett, an adjunct professor at St. Petersburg College, spoke with ThinkProgress about why adjuncts nationwide, particularly in Florida, are calling on presidential candidates to support students and educators by investing in higher education.

“As the cost of college has soared, we have seen wages for educators plummet. Our students are stuck with the bill while administrators fight to keep colleges and universities running with increasingly smaller budgets,” said Angela Edwards-Luckett, an adjunct professor of world religions at St. Petersburg College. “Across Florida, educators are struggling. That’s why we voted to form our union at St. Petersburg College, so that the administration and legislators in Tallahassee and Washington can hear us.”

With this breakthrough, St. Petersburg College adjunct professors join their colleagues at Hillsborough Community College, Broward College, University of South Florida, Seminole State College, Miami Dade College and Lake-Sumter State College who have already formed their unions with SEIU FPSU Faculty Forward.

Read more in the Tampa Bay Times, WMNF and Tampa Bay Business Journal.

Read More Oct 22, 2019
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Professors push presidential candidates to include a voice for educators in higher education reform proposals

Contingent professors with SEIU Faculty Forward have joined with students and families across the country to demand college for all, student loan debt forgiveness and a minimum of $15 an hour and the right to join a union for all campus employees. In response to this overwhelming demand from voters, candidates are proposing plans that address loan debt and accessibility. Now, professors are urging candidates to include a voice for educators in their plans. They say that no higher education reform bill can be truly transformative if the people who spend every day in the classroom don’t have a voice in its execution.

Professors at the University of Iowa met with Gov. Jay Inslee at a local diner Monday, just two weeks after their meeting with Sen. Bernie Sanders to discuss their plans for higher education reform legislation and how to make it more effective. Marquette professors met Sen. Elizabeth Warren last week and she committed to drafting a letter in support of their union effort.

In all these engagements, professors called on candidates to make it easier for them to come together with their colleagues and address low wages, lack of benefits and lack of job security. As a result, Former Secretary Julian Castro recently incorporated edits to his legislation that would ensure fair pay for all campus employees and protect educators’ right to a voice on the job.

These kinds of gains are only possible because educators are united in a powerful movement. With more than 60,000 graduate workers and faculty members on 70 campuses, plus countless students, families and staff supporters, it's clear that candidates understand their power when they stick together.

Read More Jul 17, 2019
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University of Iowa faculty discuss their fight for a union with Sen. Sanders

On Wednesday, July 3 members of Faculty Forward Iowa met in a small closed meeting with Sen. Bernie Sanders to discuss the unique challenges facing college and university professors. 16 University of Iowa non-tenure track faculty members attended the meeting, some accompanied by their family members.

The group applauded the senator’s efforts to address soaring tuition and student loan debt in higher education and expressed the importance of ensuring that the educators who actually spend time in the classroom day in and day out have a voice on the job. Worker leaders told the story of a two-year effort to fight for a union at their school, despite facing some of the most unfriendly union legislation in the country, and the progress they have made in winning expansions of health coverage and organizing their colleagues.

Professor Erik Westlund shared with Sen. Sanders his personal journey in education, having started his career as a high school teacher with full benefits, job security and union protections, and then going back to school for a graduate degree and becoming a college professor who has no benefits, no job security, and little opportunity for advancement. He ended by saying that after six years, he makes exactly the same amount now as he did as a high school teacher-–minus the benefits and protections.

As the meeting came to its close, Bernie summarized his shock and solidarity with their struggle: "You're getting ripped off big time," he said, "not by a private company, not by the Waltons, by a public institution...You are the future of America, you should be treated well." He further advised the professors in the room to band together with students and publicly demand the university act.

Read More Jul 03, 2019
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Over 1,200 campus workers win a pathway to $15 at Washington University in Saint Louis

After coming together on campus over the past year, Washington University in St. Louis campus workers and housekeepers won a path to a $15 wage, helping them support their families and communities. This major victory comes after a coalition of workers, including grad workers, occupied the front lawn of the campus administration building for 33 days.

“Housekeepers, graduate workers and campus workers at WashU came together across racial lines and different backgrounds to fight for the $15 we need to support our families and improve our neighborhoods,” said Local 1 WashU housekeeper Gary Johnson. “We showed our region that a $15 wage isn’t just possible, it’s essential in making St. Louis a better place for all working families.”

Starting July 1, 2021, nearly 1,200 regular and contracted workers will see their pay raised to $15 an hour, lifting the St. Louis region for all working people and illustrating the growing support for a $15 wage for working families.

WashU graduate workers, with the support of housekeepers and campus workers, will continue to fight for $15, a union voice and childcare to make sure WashU lives up to its mission and is a better place for all working people.

“The increase to $15 is a really important victory for workers at WashU,” said Washington University Graduate Workers Union (WUGWU) member Grace Ward. “As a member of WUGWU, I’m proud of the coalition that came together in this fight, and I’m looking forward to continuing to organize with housekeepers, service workers, undergrads, faculty, and activists in the wider St. Louis community. Direct action works, and we’re going to keep it up.”

Across the country, there is a national coordinated fight for $15 campaign across campuses that is picking up wins. Graduate workers are increasing the pressure on their employers to raise stipends to a minimum living wage, in addition to better working conditions. After a series of protests and a high profile campaigns, graduate workers at Duke University and Emory University won $31,000 year stipend— the equivalent of $15 an hour for year-round, full-time work.

Read more.

Read More Jun 26, 2019
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In landmark union election, Occidental College faculty vote to join SEIU Local 721

Over 100 non-tenure track faculty at Occidental College voted to join SEIU Local 721. Tuesday’s landmark yes vote comes after a months-long organizing drive that saw scores of faculty and students working together to raise standards and improve working conditions for faculty at the nationally renowned liberal arts college.

“We're heartened by the strong showing of support in today's vote by Occidental's faculty,” said Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Brian Clearwater. “This puts us in a solid position to obtain a contract that reflects the excellent teaching and service that Occidental's non-tenure track faculty do.”

Occidental College faculty are the latest in the growing, nationwide movement of faculty and graduate students taking action to address the crisis of corporatization in higher education. Their victory marks the fifth successful Los Angeles election through SEIU’s Faculty Forward initiative.

“My Occidental colleagues are an inspiration,” said Desiree Zamorano, a non-tenure track professor of education. “May we together inspire faculty and graduate students organizing at other campuses across the country.”

· Read more in The Eastsider and spread the word on Twitter.

Read More May 14, 2019
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Lake-Sumter State College adjuncts vote YES for their union

Adjunct professors at Lake-Sumter State College kicked off the end of semester celebrations with a bang as they voted decisively to form their union with SEIU Florida Public Services Union (FPSU). They’re the sixth group of adjuncts to form their union in Florida as part of the growing push for increased investment in the state’s colleges and universities.

“Today, we have taken an important step towards achieving fairness at Lake-Sumter State College,” said Joseph Silver, an adjunct professor who teaches biological sciences at Lake-Sumter State College. “Adjuncts teach the majority of classes at Lake-Sumter, yet many of us can’t cover the basics. It’s time for us to come together and ensure that adjunct faculty can earn a living, while providing students a great education.”

Adjunct faculty at Lake-Sumter State College are some of the poorest paid adjunct professors in Florida, with professors earning 12% below the state median. In winning their union, Lake-Sumter State College faculty join their colleagues at Hillsborough Community College, Broward College, University of South Florida, Seminole State College and Miami Dade College who have already formed their unions with SEIU Faculty Forward in Florida.

“We congratulate our adjunct colleagues for winning their union election and look forward to working together to make Lake-Sumter a better institution for our wonderful students,” said Debby Hicks, a full-time professor and one of the leaders of the full-time faculty union campaign at Lake-Sumter State College. “All faculty members, whether adjuncts or full-time, deserve to have direct representation to address the issues that matter most: making sure our students get the best education possible.”

Read more in the Daily Commercial and twitter.

Read More Apr 30, 2019
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Loyola University Chicago Graduate Workers and Students Hold Walkout

Loyola University Chicago graduate workers walked off the job and were joined by hundreds of students as part of a walkout to protest the administration’s refusal to agree to a fair union contract for graduate workers. The actions followed tense moments last week when seven graduate workers and their supporters were arrested during a peaceful protest.

“Like faculty before us, we waited two years for the administration to recognize the value of our work and come to a fair deal. Today, we’re standing up to say ‘we’re done waiting’,” said Jean Clifford, a graduate worker at Loyola University Chicago. “I shouldn’t have to scrounge food from end-of-the-year parties and events just to be able to feed myself. I quite literally can’t afford to wait any longer.”

Today’s walkout comes just a year after faculty went on strike over the administration’s refusal to come to a fair agreement on working conditions. Even though graduate workers – the master’s and PhD students who do much of the research, teaching and grading on campus for extremely low pay – officially won union recognition back in February of 2017, the school has refused to even sit down with graduate workers to come to a fair deal.

“While Loyola states it honors social justice values and Catholic Social Teaching, they have failed to put those values into practice,” said Father Dominic Grassi, board member of Arise Chicago. “As a leading Catholic institution, faith leaders and the wider community expect better from Loyola. Loyola should proudly lead on issues of workers’ rights rather than try and silence the voices of its grad workers. Chicagoland faith leaders call on the Loyola administration to bargain in good faith.”

U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky, as well as faith leaders, faculty members, community leaders, students and alumni joined a rally to support graduate workers. Alumni also organized a pledge to donate if and only when Loyola comes to a fair agreement with its graduate workers.

Read more here.

Read More Apr 24, 2019
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Duke Graduate Workers Win $15

After a high-profile campaign by graduate workers at Duke University, the school just announced that it would pay them a $31,000 year stipend, meeting their demand for $15/hr full-time pay. The announcement came after a series of protests at the school and on the eve of an event the group had planned for parents’ weekend to demand a “ticket to a living wage.” It is particularly significant, in that not only does it provide a $15 an hour living wage, it expands stipend payments to cover all twelve months of the year. Previously, graduate workers had to struggle without income through the summer months.

“We did it! We won!!!! Our union has been fighting for over a year to force Duke to guarantee a 12-month living stipend for all grad workers. Today, the Graduate School buckled to our pressure and agreed to pay PhD students a living wage 12 months of the year. This is an enormous victory that will put millions of dollars in the pockets of grad workers. It’s a testament to the power of our union — and to unions everywhere!” SEIU Workers United Southern Region Local 27, Duke Graduate Students Union said in a statement.

The Duke Graduate Student Union formed their direct join chapter with SEIU Workers United Southern Region Local 27 in 2017. Since then, they have won a number of victories through direct action including gym access and an end of continuation fees for sixth year students.

Graduate workers around the country have been mobilizing to demand a $15 minimum wage for all campus employees. Last Fall, Emory University graduate workers also won a $15 and hour minimum wage.

Read more here.

Read More Apr 12, 2019
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Miami Dade College adjuncts vote YES for their union

Florida’s higher education campaign continues to sizzle as adjunct professors at Miami Dade College -- the largest college in the country -- voted to form their union with SEIU FPSU. The group is now the largest single-school adjunct collective bargaining unit in the nation.

“Today, I’m proud to be united with my colleagues in winning the biggest adjunct professor union with Faculty Forward,” said Stacey Wadle, an adjunct professor of business and communications at Miami Dade College. “As politicians chip away at our young people’s futures, we’re uniting to fight back. It’s clear to anyone watching the tide of professor organizing sweeping the state that something big is happening here.”

The organizing campaign gained national attention when the school’s administration launched an aggressive anti-union campaign while pushing their employees to sign up their children for Medicaid or other government sponsored healthcare programs. Bloomberg broke the news that the school’s vice provost wrote in an email to faculty, “does your child have insurance? ...Don’t let insurance premiums stand in the way of your child’s health. With Florida KidCare, your child may qualify for free or low-cost coverage.”

With this breakthrough, Miami Dade College adjunct professors join their colleagues at Hillsborough Community College, Broward College, University of South Florida and Seminole State College who have already formed their unions with SEIU’s Florida Public Services Union (FPSU) Faculty Forward in Florida. Adjunct professors at St. Petersburg College, Lake-Sumter State College and South Florida State College kick off their union elections in the coming months.

“Our fight for a union at Miami Dade College isn’t just about our wages or the lack of respect we face everyday; it’s about standing up as educators at the largest college in the nation and saying enough is enough,” said Ximena Barrientos, an adjunct professor of earth sciences at Miami Dade College. “We’re tired of watching our students go to food banks because tuition keeps rising. I’m tired of worrying about bill collectors when I should be worried about lesson plans. By standing up with one voice, we can demand the investment we need for our students and colleagues throughout Florida.”

Read more in the Miami Herald, Miami New Times, and Inside Higher Ed

Read More Mar 27, 2019
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Elon University adjuncts say YES to their union

Today, in a union election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, adjunct professors at Elon University in Alamance County, North Carolina voted to form their union with SEIU Workers United Southern Region. The faculty voted by a 2-1 margin to unionize.

At Elon, almost half of the faculty are non-tenure track, meaning they have little to no job security. Elon faculty’s campaign for a union is part of a growing union movement of academics in the South and across the country.

“The adjunct faculty at Elon University have spoken: we believe that our voices are the best way to articulate issues with, and solutions for, our working conditions and our students’ learning environment,” said Catherine Bush, an assistant professor of biology at Elon University. “We look forward to productive conversations with the administration to discuss improvements that will benefit our entire university.”

The Elon adjuncts are only the second group of private sector faculty in the South to win a union in the past 25 years, following in the footsteps of Duke faculty who won a landmark first contract in 2017. The faculty are the latest campus workers to join SEIU Workers United Southern Region, whose membership now includes more than 1,000 members working in higher education across the South.

Read More Mar 12, 2019