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Contingent Faculty Bargaining

Part 1: How To Prepare for the Bargaining Table

Contingent faculty carry different job titles at different higher education institutions—such as adjunct or lecturers—but without a strong contract, they all confront the same reality. "Contingents" are part-time and temporary employees without job security, receiving lower pay per course than tenure system (tenured and tenure-track) faculty and fewer benefits and resources. There is no single formula for reaching a decent contingent contract, but solid ideas do exist in NEA policy for heading in the right direction:

Priority Number One: Pass a Bargaining Law

Public sector contingent faculty may make temporary progress in pay and working conditions through administrative policy or legislation, but even the best gains can vanish overnight in the absence of a state bargaining law, similar to state statutes covering K-12 public educators or the federal law covering private sector college and university employees.

Higher education faculty have bargaining rights in more than 25 states. But contingent negotiators, working with NEA state affiliate staff, should research their state’s bargaining laws to ensure that bargaining is legally permissible for non-tenure system faculty. If not, they should determine if existing laws should be amended or a new bargaining statute is required. Then, with bargaining rights, trained and energetic leadership, and high membership/involvement, an NEA higher education affiliate can begin to close the wide gap between contingent and tenure system faculty.

Examine NEA Higher Education Policy

Contingents seeking a binding union contract have plenty of Association policy. NEA Higher Education Policy Statement #1 proclaims: "The excessive use of academic appointments on temporary, nontenure-track, and/or multiple long-term contracts undermines academic and intellectual freedom, tenure, the governance structure, and educational quality. Faculty who are subjected to lengthy or continuous probationary status are less likely ever to exercise freely their rights as citizens." And Policy Statement #12 stresses that contingent
faculty "should be treated no differently than full-time, tenured, or permanent faculty for purposes of employment conditions, including eligibility to collectively bargain."

Look at Overall Objectives

NEA higher education policy offers compass bearings for first-time and veteran contingent faculty bargainers. Among the recommended goals in this policy:

  • Salary schedules and benefits for contingent faculty "should be proportionate to their work on campus," including course preparation time, office hours, committee assignments, and involvement in governance. Schedules should account for longevity of service, "and one salary structure that would accomplish this is pro rata pay."

  • Contingent faculty should be given equal treatment with tenure system faculty on campus regarding issues of resource allocation—including office space, access to phone and computer equipment, library facilities, secretarial assistance, required professional development, and access to campus mailing lists. Beyond the resources, "contingent faculty should be treated as the professionals they are and involved in the governance of the campus."

  • Contingent slots should be converted to full-time tenure system positions, and the faculty in them offered the opportunity to "convert into full-time." Contingents seeking tenure-track positions should have the obligation to ensure that their qualifications are competitive for the new positions. To make this possible, the institution, "following appropriate governance procedures," should develop and implement an appropriate evaluation system for contingents. Finally, faculty members who prefer part-time slots should have fair and equitable pay and working conditions.

Listen to the Members

Policy aside, it is NEA contingent faculty members themselves who, through bargaining surveys and union democracy, set actual bargaining priorities. Invariably, contingents across the country reduce the hot issues down to decent pay, job security/continuing employment, benefits, due process/fair treatment, support for professional responsibilities, and a voice on the job. Boiled down to the basics, it's all about respect, equal pay for equal work, and a living wage.

Develop a Full Proposed Agreement

When contingent faculty win bargaining rights, the elected bargaining team determines what is legally negotiable, examines good contracts negotiated in similar units, and compiles a list of all work rules, policies, practices, and benefits already in effect. Bargainers then survey members on needed improvements, while developing a full proposed agreement that includes standard Association contract provisions—such as a union "recognition" clause, a salary schedule, intellectual property and academic freedom provisions, and a grievance procedure with binding arbitration.*

Aim for Pay Parity and a Living Wage

One burning issue that must be confronted in bargaining: the wide pay gap between contingent and tenure system faculty. According to a study done for the NEA Research Department, a full-time tenure system professor receives, on average, $10,563 per class in salary without benefits, compared with $2,836 received by a part-time contingent.**
Before aiming for pay parity with tenure system colleagues, negotiators should first a pursue—as a rock-bottom floor—a living wage as the minimum starting pay for all contingents. A living wage is, quite simply, what a worker needs to pay for basic family needs—food, housing, transportation, health and child care, clothing, personal care, taxes, and even modest savings—while surviving without outside jobs or government or family assistance. To quickly research the monthly living wage in any region, go the Economic Policy Institute's basic family budget calculator.

For more on contingent faculty bargaining, contact Dave Winans in the NEA Collective Bargaining & Member Advocacy Department at

* For a full list of recommended contract provisions, see the Organizing Manual for Association Leaders in Higher Education Units, NEA Office of Higher Education, Spring 1992.
** Research conducted by John B. Lee of JBL Associates, Inc., based on data collected from the National Survey of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF:04).

Other Contingent Faculty Bargaining Fact Sheets: