© 2023 WRVO Public Media
NPR News for Central New York
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Wells College adjunct action caps busy year for union drives

Solvejg Wastvedt
WSKG News File Photo
Robert Earle led an English as a Second Language class at Tompkins Cortland Community College earlier this year. Earle is a lead organizer in the TC3 adjuncts' fight for a union.

Adjunct faculty at Wells College in Aurora, New York took a big step toward unionizing last week. Organizers filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board. At an election, adjuncts would vote “yes” or “no” to a union.

The move is the latest in a year full of union drives for adjuncts, who work under short-term contracts and, nationally, make notoriously low salaries. Wells is a tiny private school, with just over 500 students. Earlier this year, the much larger, also private, Ithaca College saw a successful adjunct union drive. At two community colleges, adjuncts fought to separate their unions from full-time faculty.

“We wanted to make sure we had a voice for adjuncts at the college, and being accreted into the full-timers association wasn’t a move that we thought would insure that,” Tompkins Cortland instructor Robert Earle explained last summer.

Earle and other TC3 organizers resisted the college’s push for a combined unit. TC3 is still waiting for a state ruling on the separate unions, but Cayuga Community College adjuncts won the same fight in June.

Adjuncts at SUNY four-year schools are already unionized, but this month SUNY Oneonta organizers successfully pushed for a raise in starting pay. In past years, the SUNY professors’ union has not been able to negotiate a minimum starting adjunct salary. They’re headed into a new round of contract negotiations this spring.

Solvejg Wastvedt grew up in western Pennsylvania and graduated from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Over the summer, she served in Los Angeles as an intern on NPR's National Desk. Plus, before coming to Upstate New York, Solvejg worked at the Minneapolis community radio station KFAI. When she isn't reporting the news, Solvejg enjoys running and exploring hiking trails.