Michigan community college faculty vote for the union

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Part-time faculty at Kalamazoo Valley Community College in Michigan gave their overwhelming consent to union representation earlier in May, when they voted 162-38 in favor of certifying the KVCC Federation of Teachers as their collective bargaining agent. KVCC-FT is affiliated with AFT Michigan.

A central issue for the part-time faculty is the need for respect and recognition. "The term 'part-time' or 'nontenure-track' does not denote 'inferior,' " says Catherine Barnard, a part-time psychology instructor of 15 years who was instrumental on the KVCC-FT organizing committee. "Years of service and dedication to our students should be rewarded. We have earned the right to fair compensation, academic freedom and timely semester appointments. Our level of education, professionalism and commitment to our students is equivalent to that of the full-time tenured faculty."

Currently, part-time nontenure-track faculty members comprise more than 60 percent of the teaching force at KVCC. The college employs more than 300 part-time instructors, whom it hires semester by semester.

Job security is another key issue. "The sign-up for future classes is always a tense time. We part-timers never know how many classes we will be assigned or whether we will be bumped by a full-time faculty member," says English and French instructor Kelly O'Leary. "We have no job security. To supplement our incomes from one semester to the next, we have to find other work."

Many part-time instructors travel between multiple colleges and universities in order to accumulate enough courses to earn a living wage. Nancy Beers, a part-time history instructor at KVCC, says she traveled 300 miles a week to Kellogg Community College and Olivet College to make ends meet during the winter term. Other campuses where KVCC instructors teach include Western Michigan University, Davenport University, Muskegon Community College, Glen Oaks Community College and Southwestern Michigan College.

Also at issue for many members are benefits and a voice in decision-making. "Some desperately needed benefits include equal pay for equal work, emergency sick days and healthcare, representation on policymaking committees, and an ethical, fair and transparent evaluation system of our work," says Laurie Nic, a math instructor. "I am excited that union representation through the AFT will help us work together to gain an ethical and secure working environment that will benefit the students and staff as well as the college."

The KVCC-FT joins nontenure-track faculty unions affiliated with AFT Michigan at Eastern Michigan University, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University, Western Michigan University, Central Michigan University, Ferris State University and Henry Ford Community College. [AFT Michigan]

May 25, 2012