Adjunct professors at Robert Morris University (RMU) have voted overwhelmingly to form a collective bargaining unit to seek better wages, job security, and benefits.
Election results released Tuesday by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) show a faculty vote of 125-67 in favor of affiliating with the United Steel Workers (USW).
"I'm absolutely delighted by it," said Patricia Welsh Droz, who served on a six-member organizing committee of RMU instructors. "We're all delighted by it. But we're not surprised."
Welsh Droz, who teaches public speaking and persuasion classes, has been frustrated with her working conditions. She's hoping contract negotiations will lead to a bigger role for part time faculty in curriculum development and other areas.
But she believes economic security is the biggest motivator.
"I would like a benefits-bearing job, and I'd like some path to full time, should I stay at Robert Morris," Welsh Droz said. "And that is what my colleagues, my part time colleagues, have been bemoaning as well. They want these things."
Adjunct faculty at RMU earn around $2,400 for teaching a three-credit course, with a maximum of three courses per semester. That adds up to $14,400 a year, well below the federal poverty line.
RMU is the third campus in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area where contingent faculties have voted in recent years to organize through the USW, and the next stage in a citywide organizing effort.
In February, nearly three years after Duquesne University adjuncts approved a union, the NLRB rejected the university's bid for a religious exemption from collective bargaining rules.
Instructors at Point Park University voted overwhelmingly in favor of unionization in 2014.
Organizers believe contingent faculty in Pittsburgh are in a strong position, because all of the city's colleges and universities draw from the same pool of highly skilled workers.
"University X can't just say 'OK, you're not willing to work under these conditions, we'll just go find someone else," Welsh Droz said. "If there's a metropolitan-wide group, the pool becomes everyone who's involved in this. We have power in numbers."