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FAQ: Things to Know about Joining Your Union



What is SAF-AAUP?


Suffolk Affiliated Faculty (SAF) is the Suffolk University part-time faculty’s collective bargaining chapter, or union. It’s affiliated with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which has about 70 other faculty union affiliates across the country, including both the part-time and full-time faculty unions at Emerson College. Suffolk part-time faculty voted to unionize in 2006, and this past spring, SAF-AAUP members ratified their first contract. 


What’s in the new contract?


-          Salary adjustments totaling 30-45% between 2007 and 2010 and an increased salary floor

-          Subsequent annual salary increases of 3.5% through 2014

-          Medical and dental benefits (65% premium coverage) for lecturers who have taught a 2:2 load for five or more consecutive years

-          Elective 403b retirement plan

-          Paid departmental committee service / participation in shared governance

-          Regularized appointment and promotion policies


Why do part-time faculty at Suffolk need a contract? Didn’t we get raises before?


The contract guarantees us salary increases and other rights, too. Before the union was formed and the contract negotiated, Suffolk’s part-time faculty pay lagged far behind that of lecturers at other Boston-area colleges, and whether we received raises from year to year and how much was entirely the decision of the Suffolk administration. We had no standardized procedures for receiving our reappointment notifications or being promoted. We’ve negotiated these improvements to our working lives:


Material benefits. Thanks to our contract, our salaries now exceed the national average and are competitive with other Boston-area part-time faculty. We have access to a retirement plan and have made dental and medical benefits available to greater numbers of part-time faculty.


Transparency. Our contract also stipulates standard reappointment notification dates and promotion procedures and provides due process protections against arbitrary and unfair treatment.


Grievance and arbitration. One of the most important rights we have under our contract is access to a clear grievance policy with legally-binding arbitration. Before the contract, if a part-time faculty member filed a grievance, the final decision-maker was the Suffolk administration. With a union contract, if a satisfactory resolution to a grievance can’t be reached at earlier steps in the grievance process, the union can take the case to arbitration to be heard by an objective third party outside the university community whose decision the university must abide by law.


Visibility and recognition. And, of course, because we have a union, our work is no longer invisible and unrecognized by the Suffolk community. We have a seat at the table: the right to negotiate our compensation and other terms and conditions and a real, working relationship with the Suffolk University administration. Having a contract creates a better channel of communication between us and the administration and gives us a stronger voice on campus. In fact, the contract guarantees us two meetings a year with the Deans of both CAS and SSB to discuss part-time faculty members’ issues and concerns. 


Now that we have a contract, what’s left to do?


A contract is only strong if it is enforced. Our bargaining team negotiated terrific improvements for all part-time faculty, and the contract runs through 2014, but now we need to ensure that all of the contract’s provisions are adhered to by the university. That means making sure our part-time colleagues know their contractual rights, working with the administration to carry out the provisions of the contract, and representing part-time faculty members who file grievances. 


The best way to ensure the contract’s enforcement is to be a strong union, and a union’s strength is determined by its membership.


Why is having a high rate of membership important?


There are two reasons: first, the more members we have, the better able we are to truly represent the interests of part-time faculty to the administration and wield an influence strong enough to protect and enforce our contract. Second, contract enforcement requires time and resources. A high membership rate means having more volunteers and the financial resources to carry out the day-to-day responsibilities of the union. Plus, only union members can cast ballots in union officer elections and contract ratification votes and run for union office, and we want all part-time faculty to participate in these decisions.


Our contract stipulates that if we reach 55% membership by December 1, we will become a “fair share” union (sometimes called “closed shop”).


What is “fair share”?


With a fair share arrangement, everyone who is covered by the contract has the choice of either joining the union as a full member, or paying an “agency fee” to cover the costs incurred by the union as it represents everyone. It’s based on the premise that since everyone benefits from the contract – through legally binding pay raises, access to a grievance process and outside arbitration, and other rights – everyone should contribute to the cost of administering the contract, even if they choose not to become a full member of the chapter.


How much are union dues?


Currently, members pay a flat fee of $65 per year (or $32.50 per semester) to belong to the union, an amount set by the membership. That’s 0.37% (1/3 of 1%) of the minimum lecturer salary. As part of our membership drive, the chapter is offering a special introductory dues rate of $25 for the fall semester if you sign up for automatic payroll deduction. With automatic payroll deduction, the university’s payroll department will deduct dues from your paycheck once each semester: for the 2009-10 school year, $25 from your December paycheck, and $32.50 (the regular semester dues amount) from your April paycheck, if you are teaching in the spring.


How are dues spent?


Dues are used to help the union work effectively on your behalf: to print and mail contracts and other necessary forms and correspondence, sponsor informational sessions for members, maintain an updated website, and most importantly, to underwrite legal costs associated with members’ grievances and pursue arbitration in cases where the administration and faculty grievants can’t reach a satisfactory resolution together.  A portion of our dues is shared with the national AAUP, which in turn provides our chapter with legal advice, negotiations training and assistance, financial analysis, and other organizing resources.


Union members also receive all of the benefits of AAUP membership, including a subscription to its journal, Academe, discounted subscriptions to The Chronicle of Higher Education and to auto, accident, life, and other group insurance plans, and a low-interest rate on a Bank of America credit card.


Do SAF-AAUP officers get paid?


No, the union is run on a volunteer basis by your colleagues, other part-time faculty members at Suffolk University. At some point in the future, if we have the resources, we may be able to hire a part-time staff member or buy course release time for a faculty member to help us run the union, but that is a decision that will be made by the membership. 


How can I join?


You can join by filling out a membership form and returning it to the address on the form or to a union volunteer. You can choose to have one-half of your annual dues automatically deducted once each semester (December and April) by checking the box to authorize automatic payroll deduction, or you can submit a check or money order for the full annual dues amount ($65) along with your completed membership form.


Will joining the union threaten my job security?


No. Now that we have a contract, we have more job security than previously. We are protected from retaliation by our grievance policy, but as a unionized faculty group, our relationship to the administration does not have to be adverse. By bargaining with us, the administration has recognized our union and it is now working with us to implement its provisions.


Can I volunteer?


Yes! We need volunteers to talk to other part-time faculty colleagues about the contract and to encourage them to become members, too. We also need volunteers to be part of our grievance committee, and to help distribute information, call part-time faculty whose email addresses we don’t have, and write newsletters. And if you get involved and find you enjoy it, consider joining the SAF-AAUP steering committee!


To volunteer, send an email to info@saf-aaup.org.