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Thursday, June 17, 2021

Valencia College adjuncts vote to form a union after years-long push

Posted By on Thu, Jun 17, 2021 at 11:48 AM

  • Photo via Valencia College

After five years of organizing at Florida’s second-largest state college, adjunct faculty at Valencia College have successfully formed a union.

The election held by Florida’s Public Employees Relation Commission closed on Wednesday and a vote count confirmed the faculty wished to unionize. With this, adjunct professors at Valencia join more than 10,000 adjunct faculty in the Florida College System who have either successfully unionized or are on the path to union representation, according to a press release released by the Service Employees International Union-Florida Public Services Union (SEIU FPSU).

In just five years, half of Florida’s adjunct professors—who are classified as part-time instructors—have either filed for or formed a union, according to SEIU-FPSU, which represents about 60,000 adjunct faculty nationwide.

“I am so excited for this win today!” said Teresa Greene, an adjunct professor of psychology, in a Wednesday press release about the union victory.

Greene, who’s worked at Valencia since 2006, first began talking to her colleagues about forming a union in 2014, after adjuncts shared grievances with one another over low wages, job instability, and a general feeling of disrespect from a college administration.

Earlier this month, Greene told Orlando Weekly that she initially tried to work with the college to secure improvements in the workplace for adjunct faculty. When those changes didn’t materialize, and adjuncts didn’t see another path forward, they began organizing for a union in earnest—a feat that’s been at least five years in the making.

Said Greene, “This is the culmination of four years of effort: having conversations, building relationships, making phone calls and knocking on doors assessing the working conditions of adjuncts from their perspectives.”

Adjunct faculty make up about 70% of total faculty at Valencia College. On average, they make about $2,000 per three-credit course, with adjuncts teaching anywhere from one to six courses a semester, often juggling multiple jobs with no guarantee of what their course-load will be looking like until weeks before semesters are scheduled to begin.

As previously reported, the Valencia College administration ran a stunningly well-funded campaign against adjuncts’ organizing efforts, building out an entire section on their website dedicated to anti-union messaging and paying “union avoidance” lawyers with the law firm Allen Norton & Blue tens of thousands of dollars in recent years—including up to $8,000 a month in 2020, per invoices acquired by Orlando Weekly. Meanwhile, some adjunct professors at Valencia struggled to meet basic needs.

Despite unexpected hardships of the last year, in work and more broadly as individuals living through a global pandemic, adjuncts at Valencia were not deterred. They continued organizing, and showed up in solidarity with movements for Florida’s $15 minimum wage increase and Black Lives Matter, as they persisted in efforts to secure a union election. The end goal was to get to a point where they could begin negotiating a contract with Valencia, collectively and with union representation, at the bargaining table.

In the last year, Valencia adjuncts successfully organized for a 2.5% wage increase, $500 stipends for completing a virtual instruction certification program, and the creation of over 200 visiting professor positions that will offer eight-month contracts for full-time work with benefits. The college has disputed the role of the adjunct organizing committee in securing these victories, but adjuncts maintain that these wins would not have materialized without their collective pressure.

With this election, nearly 1,300 adjunct faculty members at Valencia will now have union representation with SEIU-FPSU. Just earlier this month, a spokesperson for Valencia confirmed with Orlando Weekly that they’d be ready to bargain with the union, should the union be successful in their election.

And although the process of negotiating a union contract with employers can take time—months, or even years—adjuncts like Dr. Joe Angley, who helped lead organizing efforts at the college, see promise in the path that lies ahead.

“We have our union and a voice that we never had before,” he said.

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