Adjunct professors of the world unite?

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 284 announced last week its intention to unionize adjunct instructors at Macalester College and Hamline University. Both groups have filed election petitions with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The push for adjunct unionization is part of a larger national movement, led by unions like SEIU looking to find new sources of union members (and dues) from traditionally non-unionized workforces. Adjuncts are an especially appealing target for unions as universities expand their usage of part-time instructors.

The timing may be inconvenient for unions, however, as concerns about out-of-control student debt and the ever-rising cost of higher education have become front-page news. A recent study by the Institute for College Access and Success found that students in Minnesota had the fourth highest level of average student debt in the nation. And among private colleges, Hamline students averaged the third highest debt level in the state. Meanwhile, the cost of tuition alone at Macalester is nearly $47,000. But if you think higher education is expensive now, just wait for the coming wave of unionization.

As an aside, it will be interesting to see how involved Minnesota’s state and federal elected politicians are with the union campaigns. When conservative politicians weighed in on the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) high-profile and ultimately unsuccessful vote to unionize Volkswagen in Chattanooga, the union and its allies accused politicians of interfering with the vote and influencing the outcome. The UAW even appealed the vote to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), though they subsequently withdrew the appeal.

In Minnesota, Rep. Keith Ellison has already lent his support to the adjunct unionization efforts, appearing at the Macalester announcement, writing a letter of support for unionizing adjuncts, and urging Macalester leaders to “take the ‘higher ground’ by committing to a position of neutrality and non-interference.” Ellison also said of Macalester: “This is a wonderful school. It would be unfitting for this great institution to interfere with the union drive.”

For the record, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the single largest contributor to Rep. Ellison’s congressional campaigns throughout his career is SEIU, the union attempting to organize adjuncts at Macalester and Hamline.

Will Minnesota politicians be held accountable for “meddling” in union elections? Unlikely, as long as they continue to espouse the union’s point of view.

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