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Adjunct professors—the worker ants of higher education—are the lowest-paid highly educated workers in America. What could unions do for them? Here is your freaking answer.

It’s typical for our nation’s most enlightened elite universities to suddenly become reactionary right-wingers when unions arise on their own campuses. Duke University is no different. After a hard fought battle against the school’s management, more than 200 non-tenured faculty members at Duke University formed a union last year. At Duke, as at every college, these teachers suffered from low pay, little job stability, and a general sense of being treated as disposable by the shiny institutions they served.

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This week, the Duke faculty agreed on their first union contract. The SEIU bills theirs as the “the first faculty union contract at a major private university in the South.” And here is what they got, via Jane Stancill at the News-Observer:

Average pay increases during the contract would be: 14 percent for faculty paid on a per-course basis; nearly 12 percent for salaried faculty; and 46 percent for faculty in Applied Music, who are the lowest-paid faculty. Roughly half to two-thirds of faculty in those categories would receive higher-than-average raises, according to SEIU.

The agreement includes multi-year teaching appointments, the same benefits as other Duke employees and pay protections for canceled courses. A new fund would be set up for professional development.

To recap: Poorly paid workers at a rich institution, who suffered from low pay, poor benefits, and little job security, organized and came together and collectively bargained. In exchange for their efforts they won significant pay increases, better benefits, and greater job security. They did this even while working at an institution hostile to their goals. If you do what they did you can get what they got.

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Anyone who tells you otherwise does not want you to get a raise.


For much more on the struggles of adjuncts, see here.