Sept. 21, 2004

Preparing for the Part-Time Faculty Mail-In Election Oct. 4–19

Q&A with Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald R. Lehman

GW How important is it for eligible part-time faculty to vote in this election?

DL I cannot overly stress the importance of voting because according to National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) law, a majority of those voting, not a majority of those in the group the union seeks to represent, will determine the election outcome. For instance, if only 100 part-time faculty members vote, and 51 vote “yes” for the union, all current and future part-time faculty, including those who did not vote, will be represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 500 (SEIU Local 500) in one unit. This will affect all part-time faculty, except those teaching in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Therefore, part-time faculty who wish to have a say in the determination of what may significantly affect their future employment conditions must return their ballots. And, I say this to all part-time faculty, including those who may disagree with my point of view.

GW Why the mail ballot?

DL We thought the best way for everybody to have the opportunity to vote was by having the ballots mailed to them as opposed to their having to go to a designated voting place here on campus. The SEIU Local 500 initially resisted a mail ballot, but we are familiar with the hectic schedules of part-time faculty and, therefore, fought hard for this more inclusive process. The mail ballot makes voting a quick and easy process.

GW Will SEIU Local 500 require that all part-time faculty join the union and adhere to its regulations?

DL We can’t speculate about what might be the outcome of the collective bargaining process, but we do know that almost all Service Employees International Union contracts, of which Local 500 is a part, have a union security clause that requires union membership as a condition of continued employment. A union security clause would most likely preclude part-time faculty from teaching if they are not members of the union. The SEIU Local 500 could also compel all of its members to follow the bylaws of its affiliated entities. These rules often include fines and sanctions for non-payment of union assessments or for refusal to engage in picketing, strikes or other job actions.

GW How does the hiring of part-time faculty work now?

DL Right now, department chairs and program directors have flexibility to find the most qualified instructors and to negotiate individually with them on issues relating to course content, scheduling and salary. I did that when I was chair of the physics department. The system worked well for the faculty and benefited the students; our part-time faculty members received excellent reviews. If we end up in a union type of situation, the union will be the representative for their employment, not the faculty.

GW What would be the impact of unionization on the part-time faculty?

DL I think what people have to realize is that the part-time faculty is a diverse population with many different goals and priorities. We have faculty members who work full-time in the corporate world, in the federal government, in non-profit organizations and so forth. They teach for several reasons, including because we invite them to teach since we feel that they bring something special to the classroom. Some of them teach because it’s something they want to do. It may be part of their intellectual growth. Unionization by its very nature will standardize the treatment of the part-time faculty at the University. At this time, the varying issues among part-time faculty are primarily addressed by department chairs. Unionization may remove the ability of those chairs to address those issues and replace it with a uniform “one size fits all” approach. It also could impede our ability to recruit prestigious outside professionals.

Other repercussions on the part-time faculty could include imposing working conditions that would make the assignment and scheduling of classes difficult for part-time faculty members; reduce opportunities for the creation and revision of courses; and polarize relations with the full-time faculty on matters from scheduling to evaluations to compensation.

I do not mean to suggest that the part-time faculty at GW does not have legitimate concerns, only that I do not believe that unionization is the best way to address them. And, I should also point out that the union cannot mandate change — in a union, setting terms and conditions of employment are negotiated through the collective bargaining process, a process that can take many, many months and may not result in an agreement at all.

GW What has the full-time faculty reaction been to this issue?

DL I would say on the whole, most of the full-time faculty members I spoke with are very concerned. They are wary about the fact that in order to be able to do things like change schedules, they would have to negotiate through a third party as opposed to being able to work directly with the part-time faculty members themselves. With unionization, the expectations will be that all of the work requirements will be defined by the union, a third party with a bureaucracy of its own and which has larger interests than just those of the part-time faculty at GW.

GW What are the expected dues if the union petition is successful?

DL We cannot make a definite statement on this issue because it is a union determination. However, we can tell you that, according to the union’s financial reports filed with the US Department of Labor this year, SEIU Local 500 regularly charges its members $468 in dues. In addition, it typically charges new members a one-time initiation fee. The dues, according to SEIU Local 500, will be used in part to organize new members of the union, and not just for the needs of the part-time faculty at GW.

GW Aren’t there other unions on campus representing GW employees?

DL Yes, there are a few unions on campus. One represents GW’s housekeepers and groundskeepers, for example. The University enjoys good relationships with those unions. However, we do not believe that unionization of part-time faculty, especially by a local inexperienced in representing faculty and dealing with academic issues, would be in the best interests of the part-time faculty, the University and the students we serve.

GW How are you communicating with the part-time faculty on this issue?

DL So far I have sent two memos, one in May and one in August. Both of these memos can be found on GW’s unionization Web site (www.unionization., which also includes a page for frequently asked questions. I expect more mailings to go out to the part-time faculty community as we get closer to the election. I read recently in The GW Hatchet that Local 500 representatives have been going to the homes of our part-time faculty, uninvited, to solicit their vote. I think that violates the privacy of part-time faculty members and we will not do that.

Individuals looking to learn more about the issues involved in union representation can visit

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Part-Time Faculty Asked to Vote on Representation

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