A union push to organize Philly-area college adjuncts

Kylie Lacey's picture
Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Jennie Shanker committed to teaching two classes in sculpture at a Philadelphia college for the spring 2012 semester. She turned down other teaching offers to keep that commitment.

One week before the semester began, the college abruptly canceled one of the classes because it was one student shy of its enrollment target. "That was half my income," said Shanker, who earns $3,000 to $5,000 per three-credit course. Such is the plight of an adjunct professor.

Adjuncts work without benefits or job security, often for little pay and with no stable career path, though providing a substantial portion of the higher education workforce. One of the nation's largest teachers' unions is out to change that.

The American Federation of Teachers has quietly begun an effort to organize into one union the 15,000 or so adjunct professors who work at 43 public and private colleges within a 30-mile radius of Philadelphia. The goal is to form a bargaining unit that will negotiate contracts for the adjuncts and help them get health care and other benefits.

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