University of Iowa non-tenure-track faculty rally, organize

Unionization in sight, even as collective bargaining rights wane

People clap for a speaker during a protest on the Pentacrest in Iowa City on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
People clap for a speaker during a protest on the Pentacrest in Iowa City on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Although Iowa lawmakers one year ago took swift action to disempower unions, the University of Iowa’s growing number of non-tenure-track faculty are organizing with unionization in mind.

“We are on our way to gaining visibility, but the only way to gain visibility is to rise together,” UI lecturer Packy Moran said into a megaphone Monday afternoon during a rally on the UI Pentacrest. “And today, we rise.”

“What do we do today?” he asked the crowd of dozens carrying signs, waving flags, and donning T-shirts with the message they shouted back, “We rise.”

The UI rally was held in conjunction with hundreds of others nationally as the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments in the widely-followed Janus v. AFSCME case, which could alter the national public worker landscape.

If the court rules against the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union and for Mark Janus — an Illinois worker covered under a collective bargaining agreement who doesn’t want to pay dues — union coffers could suffer.

The American Association of University Professors — which has chapters on the UI, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa campuses — has signed on to an amicus brief filed in the high court arguing “payment of agency fees by non-members in public sector collective bargaining unions is constitutional.”

“At issue in the case is whether non-members of unions, who share in the wages, benefits, and protections that have been negotiated into a collectively bargained contract, may be required to pay their fair share for the cost of those negotiations,” according to the national AAUP.


Among the sweeping changes Iowa enacted to its 43-year-old collective bargaining law last year was a repeal of union authority to collect mandatory fees — meaning Iowa is not among the states that would be directly affected by the Janus ruling.

But UI faculty, staff, and students on Monday stood in solidarity for the right to organize.

“Together we are building power on campus and across the country,” Moran said. “Iowa needs unions to fight against stagnant wages and health care and limited job stability. Iowa needs unions to fight against a system rigged by the rich. Iowa needs unions to fight corporations, bosses, and university administrations. Today, together we rise.”

Several groups of employees are unionized across Iowa’s public universities — including UI graduate students and UNI faculty members. Some employees also are covered under AFSCME Iowa Council 61 and Service Employees International Union Local 199.

Those groups — before the change last year — had expansive contracts that covered in detail compensation, overtime, vacation, health care, hours, and many other issues. Those topics largely now are wrapped into faculty and employee handbooks, with two-year agreements limited to pay raises.

University of Iowa non-tenure-track faculty who spoke about the prospect of unionizing Monday expressed hope for changes in the legislature that could — sooner than later — restore union rights.

“We need to turn that car around,” UI associate professor Megan Knight said. “This is about more than half of the faculty at the University of Iowa having no representation.”

Knight said she’s been teaching in the rhetoric department for 20 years and her salary has not budged.

“My salary still has a 4 in front it, and I’m talking about five digits, not six,” she said. “We are really tired of being the engines of our departments and of doing so much of the hard labor in our department and being paid maybe half of what our tenured and tenure track colleagues make.”


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Many faculty who would be covered by a non-tenure-track union have “contingent” or “adjunct” status.

“The word ‘contingent’ means subject to chance; the word ‘adjunct’ means supplementary rather than essential,” Knight said into the megaphone, responding with an expletive. “I am tired of feeling invisible.”

In fact, non-tenure-track faculty now make up more than half of all UI faculty, representing a trend of fewer tenure and tenure-track positions — which used to be more prevalent as recent as the 2014-15 academic year.

UI is the only one of Iowa’s three public universities with more non-tenure-track faculty than tenured and tenure-track — with 1,675 compared with 1,528 in the 2016-17 school year, according to the most recent Board of Regents report.

Iowa State, for comparison, reported 596 non-tenure-track faculty in the same year, compared with 1,373 tenure and tenure-track faculty — or about 70 percent of the total. UNI has a similar percentage as Iowa State.

When looking at faculty activities, UI non-tenure-track faculty have been teaching an increasing portion of student credit hours — 47 percent compared with 43 percent taught by tenure or tenure-track faculty. The reverse was true in 2014, according to regent documents.

“This is not a problem that is going away or even becoming smaller in higher education,” Moran said during Monday’s rally. “Higher ed is changing, and non-tenure-track faculty are playing an increasing role in helping to meet the more student-centered teaching missions of 21st century universities. What you hear today is only the beginning of non-tenure-track faculty finding our voice.”

Moran announced next steps in their organization effort — including gathering signatures and planning more days of action. Tenured UI professor Loren Glass, and member of the UI AAUP chapter, spoke in support of his nontenured colleagues.


“Our AAUP slogan is, ‘One faculty, one resistance,’ whatever your status,” he said.

A new report out of the Board of Regents, approved last week, shows faculty salaries across all three campuses have been on the rise in recent years — although the data is not broken down by tenured and non-tenure-track professors.

It shows, for example, the average salary for a UI professor in 2018 is $111,952, up from $103,492 in 2014. But the averages for UI and Iowa State remain near the bottom of their peer groups — with the universities of Michigan and Texas averaging in the $130,000 range, and University of California Los Angeles averaging $171,289.

Those who rallied Monday on the UI campus signaled no intention of scaling down their opposition to those discrepancies.

“We rise to demand restored union rights in Iowa and for all workers across the country,” Moran said. “We rise to hold our politicians accountable. We rise to fight back against poor decisions made by our university administrators. We rise to build our collective bargaining rights.

“And we rise to build our collective strength,” he said. “No court case, no legislation, no propaganda campaign, can stop us from standing together. Organizing is the only answer.”

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