Non-tenure-track faculty at two USC schools approve plan to unionize

Non-tenure-track faculty members at two USC academic units have voted to unionize.

The results, announced late Tuesday by the National Labor Relations Board, make USC the largest private university in California to have faculty represented by a union.

Eligible faculty members in the Roski School of Art and Design opted to join Service Employees International Union Local 721 by a vote of 31 to 6.

In addition, eligible faculty from the USC International Academy voted 32 to 3 to approve the union.

However, non-tenure-track faculty members at USC's Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences rejected the effort to unionize. The vote among non-tenure-track faculty in USC's oldest school was 113 in favor of unionization and 127 against.

A simple majority was required to win.

USC Provost Michael Quick sent an email to faculty members saying that USC planned to appeal the Roski vote because school administrators believe that some faculty there are managers who cannot be unionized.

He said USC would first appeal to National Labor Relations Board officials in Washington, D.C., and would go to federal court if necessary. “Many steps remain before the matter is settled,” he wrote.

Quick said that the school would not appeal the International Academy vote and that he did not take the close vote at Dornsife “lightly.”

“A substantial number of faculty expressed their dissatisfaction with their votes,” he wrote.

Kate Levin, a lecturer in Dornsife who supported the unionization effort, said she was heartened by the votes at Roski and the International School.

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“In the face of aggressive anti-union tactics by the USC administration, two key schools managed to rise above the fear,” she said in a statement distributed by the SEIU. “A victory at two out of three schools by a landslide sends a gigantic message to USC.”

The SEIU has been working for nearly a year to organize a total of 430 faculty members at the three schools.

Victor Narro, project director at the UCLA Labor Center, said he wasn't surprised the SEIU fell short of a clean sweep with all three schools, especially since USC is a private school that faces less pressure from unions than do public universities.

But non-tenured faculty at Dornsife and other USC schools may be more amenable to unionization in the future, especially if the SEIU delivers results at Roski and the International School, Narro said.

“The union may have laid a good foundation,” he said. “If they negotiate a good first contract, maybe more faculty will be interested next year.”

All non-tenure-track faculty members at Roski and the International Academy will be required to join the SEIU if USC's appeal is unsuccessful. Union members will also have to pay dues totaling 1.5% of their monthly paycheck if the union successfully negotiates a contract.

The SEIU has previously held successful organizing campaigns at Whittier College and Tufts University.

Bob Schoonover, president of SEIU Local 721, said in a statement that the USC faculty following in their footsteps “are ensuring the university is a leader not only in academia, but in setting the gold standard for faculty working conditions and student learning conditions.”

USC faculty who voted for the union said they were frustrated with large workloads, low pay, shrinking benefits and poor career prospects.

Non-tenure-track faculty are generally responsible for leading discussion groups and teaching some classes, in addition to grading papers. Unlike their counterparts on the tenure track, they are not evaluated on the basis of their research.

Lecturers are paid about $30,000 annually if they teach a full-time load of six courses, according to union officials. USC says the pay is much higher.

And though USC has to build a case against a professor it wants to fire, non-tenure-track faculty members can be let go before the end of their contracts if they get a warning 90 days in advance.


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5:50 p.m.: This story has been been updated to include voting results from USC's Roski School of Art and Design and the USC International Academy.

6:23 p.m.: This story has been updated to include the comments of Victor Narro, project director at the UCLA Labor Center.

7:25 p.m.: This story has been updated to include the comments of Kate Levin, a lecturer at USC.

8:00 p.m.: This story has been updated to include a comment from SEIU Local 721 President Bob Schoonover.

10:55 p.m.: This article was updated with a response from USC Provost Michael Quick.

The story was originally published at 5:28 p.m.