Top union sees campus labour activism gaining under Biden

Possible new US education secretary also pushes major federal college investment

November 20, 2020
Man holding a megaphone
Source: iStock

While largely celebrated by US universities, Joe Biden’s election may complicate their finances by encouraging labour activism among low-paid teaching staff at the same time as institutions face tough economic challenges.

Among its likely actions, the Biden administration is expected to pick members of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) who would permit postgraduates at private institutions to form unions.

The union-friendly incoming US president also has been taking advice from Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) – the largest union representing lecturers at US universities – and was reported to be considering naming her education secretary.

In an interview with Times Higher Education, Ms Weingarten cast aside speculation over joining the administration but made clear she expected increased labour activism on US college campuses.

“What you’re going to see is a lot more graduate workers organising again,” Ms Weingarten said.

Survey data earlier this year from the AFT illustrated the size of the overall problem. Responses from more than 3,000 contingent faculty found that a third earned less than $25,000 (£19,000) annually – below the federal poverty guideline for a family of four.

Many colleges, however, are also in a major financial bind. Public spending on higher education declined between 2008 and 2018 in 45 states.

Ms Weingarten acknowledged the financial realities, and urged the Biden administration to push ahead with its idea for creating dedicated federal support for colleges serving low-income students.

But without a basic level of public commitment from sector leaders, she warned, the US will “continue to have cyclical spiralling downward of our great universities”.

Private colleges and universities already have experienced a “massive increase” in faculty unionisation, according to the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions, at the City University of New York (CUNY).

In a report on unionisation between 2013 and 2019, the centre found the number of bargaining units at private non-profit US institutions jumped more than 80 per cent to 145. Unionisation at public institutions increased about 9 per cent to 615 units.

The private sector growth was “largely attributable” to a decision by the NLRB late in the Obama administration to restore the collective bargaining rights of postgraduates, said William Herbert, executive director of the CUNY centre.

The NLRB under the Trump administration has been eager to reverse those rights. But several universities have voluntarily chosen to negotiate with their postgraduates, thereby preventing the NLRB under Trump from hearing a case that would let it bar such unions.

Private institutions haven’t been blocking the NLRB just to be kind, Ms Weingarten said. Instead, she said, it reflected their recognition that the bargaining table was a better place than a federal agency for resolving the tough problems they all face.

“The universities look at what is [in] their self-interest,” Ms Weingarten said. “I don’t see it as the university being nice or not nice.”

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles

From the largest strike in the history of UK higher education, to the US ‘academic precariat’ looking to unionise to improve their conditions, Jack Grove assesses the changing influence of workers’ organisations

11 October

Reader's comments (3)

"Survey data earlier this year from the AFT illustrated the size of the overall problem. Responses from more than 3,000 contingent faculty found that a third earned less than $25,000 (£19,000) annually." " – below the federal poverty guideline for a family of four." Why?........Why is ANY Educators' income being measured by this, the standard of a so called 'Family of 4 persons'? To do so is to put forth an egregiously flawed argument. Doing such fails the most basic of very simple logic. The question created by comparing any Educators' annual income to that of a standardized minimum, for a 4 person 'Family', very simply becomes.....why would it possibly be Societally ALLOWED, let alone acceptable for any so called "Educator" to make there-self the singular, or even partial, income provider for a Family of 2+2 children? This entire discussion, as do far too many, falls beneath the heading of: Just Because a given 'something' is Possible, the mere possibility of that 'something' is ,very much so, NOT reason enough for the possibility of that 'something' to be more than merely possible! In this case: Just because it is 'possible' for a so called, Educator, regardless of income, to be the singular income provider for a Family of 4, is NOT in any way what so ever any sort of acceptable reason for an Educator to be the singular source of income for a Family of 4! .......This FACT, of Logic, becomes all the more Societally true, the lower a said Educators' income is! This is a Societal argument NOT about the income level of any given, so called, Educator; but rather an argument about the Responsibility, to all potential & actual families of 4, of (a) Society, first, and then of the given Educator second. This is an argument concerning a potentiated, Societal 'Right', of any Educator to to be a singular income provider for a family of 4. I state, "'potentiated', Societal right", because in absolutely no way whatsoever is there any such Right, granted to any Educator, by the Society which is the United States, nor of the larger global society, allowing them to be the singular income provider to a family of 4. Especially, not granted to any Educator, whom has an income inferior to such, which is greater than merely sufficient, to provide for a family of 4. Now I know very well just how fervently, most persons will be to, disagree. but thus far I have not stated any of my personal opinions. Rather I have stated Logic and Fact. To this, I will now add, that any person who so chooses to disagree with my point, will be doing so not with facts, nor by way of applied logic. Rather any person who argues against my point will be doing so merely with opinion, either there's alone, or with the amassed opinions of others. Either way, such antagonistic opinions will have their basis founded completely in the firmament of, that most Societally irresponsible, and utterly harmful, of mere dogmas, which Religion, is! Always remember: Freedom of Religion, is the right to Self-Religiate. Freedom of Religion is NOT, any Right to put upon any other person, nor persons, ones' own choice to Religiate. No matter which so called Religion one may choose to ascribe. - By this very Fact, no person has, nor do any persons have, any right of influence, based upon their choice to Religiate, in any way whatsoever, to effect American Society!
Stop forcing upon the whole of society, the resultant effects of singular persons' irresponsible.....CHOICEs! No person, has any "Right", to choose...anything, which will negatively effect others. especially NOT when such "Choice" is based upon "Religiation"! Just because a person want 'something', does not, in of its' self, mean that they have any right to that 'something'! First and foremost: We all, as individuals, have a primary responsibility to all others! - This is the very most foundationally demanded, and required, tenet, of ALL Societies! It is NOT acceptable that Labor Unions be allowed to force upon society at large, the mere 'wants', 'wishes', and individual 'choices' of any person, or persons. Just because a Teacher, or any other person may Want to have, Wish to have, or choose to do, anything which their income does not afford them the privilege of having or doing, does not afford any Labor Union any justification for forcing society at large, to take on the burden of any Teachers' Wants, Wishes, or Choices! The Reality of logical 'If/then' issues, such as.....If a person chooses to be a Teacher, then they must also live within the parameters of being a Teacher. In no way what so ever, is it at all acceptable, for such a Teacher, nor any number of Teachers, to have ALL other members of our Society, pay for the Wishes, Wants, and choices which Teachers, by their very choice to be teachers, can not afford! -- This - IS the absolute definition of being IRRESPONSIBLE!!!! - Society does not force, is not forcing any person, nor any group of persons, to be (a teacher/teachers)! - Society does not force, is not forcing any Teacher, nor any group of teachers, to remain being (a teacher/teachers)! - If any Person, who CHOOSES to be a Teacher, CHOOSES to want, or to do, ANY thing which being a teacher does not Responsibly, afford such person the CHOICE to Want, or do......then that person/Teacher must cease being a Teacher, or any other sort of employed person, or worse, unemployed person, that can not Responsibly afford to want, or do any thing which they can not responsibly afford to want, or do! -- This Truth, Reality, Fact - applies to ALL persons / professions! NO PERSON - NO MEMBER OF ANY PROFESSION - EVER HAS ANY RIGHT TO PUT UPON SOCIETY AT LARGE, THE RESPONSIBILITY, FOR THE IRRESPONSIBILITY OF ANY PERSON, NOR FOR THE IRRESPONSIBILITY OF ANY MEMBER(S) OF ANY PROFESSION! THIS - IS just one of MANY criminally illegal actions of Labor Unions! -
What do Teachers deserve? What do all persons who choose to be Teachers deserve, for being Teachers"? All Teachers should be provided, at no cost to themselves. All costs should be born by the schools, colleges, universities by which they are employed: - A 1-bedroom & 1-office / guest bedroom apartment, on the schools campus, to be lived-in, only by the single Teacher to whom the apartment is registered. -- 100% of all Housing Incidentals. A 'Top Level' clothes washer & dryer, etcetera. - All of 4 meals/everyday, in the very same cafeterias which their students eat. -- Plus a fair weekly food stipend, for their personal use. Currently $100.00/week, in addition to the 4 cafeteria meals, is fair. - A fair clothing stipend for their personal use. Currently $500.00/month would be fair. - 100% Free, Unlimited, access to all public transportation in the greater metropolitan area which they are employed. -- Plus 100% free access to school provided, employee vehicles, for access to when & where, their communities Public Transportation system, does not access 24 hours/day 365 days/year. - 100% of all health costs! -------All of this and likely more, in addition to a currently fair income of: $2,500.00/month, 13 months/year; totaling: $32,500.00/year, $89.29/day, 7 days/week, 28 days/month, 13 months/year. Here in the United States - This, is a proper example of Societally Responsible, financial compensation for all persons who choose, professionally, to be Teachers! NO! - Any person who CHOOSES to professionally be a Teacher, does NOT have any right to burden society with: - Their personal choice to be in any sort of 'Relationship with any other person(s). - Their personal choice to be any sort of parent. - Their personal choice to, in any way, live beyond their, Societally Responsible, means. New terms: - Societal: Anything which pertains too, effects, or has to do with, Society. (Social - Is a term pertaining to interactions between persons.) - Societally - Societal Responsibility: Anything which is a debt of any person in a given Society, to that Society.