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Part-time faculty at Point Park vote to unionize

| Wednesday, June 25, 2014, 1:57 p.m.

Officials at Point Park University were quick to acknowledge and embrace a 172-79 vote Wednesday by part-time faculty to form a union, even as they continued to fight an effort by full-time professors to organize.

“We are pleased that so many adjunct faculty members took the time to make their voices heard on this important issue. We respect the decision made by those eligible to vote and look forward to working with all faculty members to fulfill Point Park's mission of educating the next generation,” said university spokesman Lou Corsaro.

That stands in stark contrast to Point Park's 11-year battle against an organizing effort by full-time faculty. In the case before the National Labor Relations Board, which the university has appealed repeatedly, including once to the U.S. Circuit Court, Point Park argues that full-time faculty have managerial responsibilities and are excluded from protection by the National Labor Relations Act.

The vote to join the Adjunct Faculty Association of the United Steelworkers of America brought cheers from longtime Point Park adjuncts who gathered at the regional office of the labor relations board, Downtown, for the vote count.

“It is a milestone for Pittsburgh and the USW because this represents a national movement,” said Rebecca Taksel, who has taught English and French at Point Park as an adjunct for 18 years.

Judith Levitt Cohen, a lawyer who also holds a doctor of philosophy degree and has taught courses as an adjunct at Point Park for a decade, said, “I feel exhilarated and relieved. Now that we have a union, we can negotiate fair wages.”

Part-time teachers are paid $2,091 to $2,727 per course. Average salaries for full-time faculty at Point Park range from $54,426 for assistant professors to $87,857 a year for full professors.

Point Park's 300-plus adjuncts outnumber full-time faculty 3-1.

The school is among many universities that rely heavily on part-time contract instructors known as adjuncts to teach courses. According to the U.S. Department of Education, adjuncts account for nearly three-quarters of the instructors on American college campuses, up from 43 percent in 1975. In most cases, they are hired on a course-by-course basis and have little or no access to benefits. Their plight started the New Faculty Majority, a national support group for part-time professors.

The Point Park vote represents the Steelworkers' second successful organizing drive at a Pittsburgh university. Adjuncts at Duquesne University voted to join the union in 2012. Duquesne, however, is appealing that vote to the National Labor Relations Board, arguing that it is a religious institution, exempt from the board's oversight.

Maria Somma, assistant director of organizing for the United Steelworkers, said the union is continuing a two-year effort aimed at organizing adjunct faculty at universities throughout Pittsburgh.

“We look forward to working collaboratively with Point Park University and hope Duquesne University will follow their lead,” she said.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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