I have never really believed that faculty unions will solve the problems facing history. With that said, while I am a bit skeptical, I am open-minded. The Organization of American Historians has published several articles on its blog about the status of contingent faculty. Donald W. Rogers, an adjunct lecturer in history at both Central Connecticut State University and Housatonic Community College, argues, "The most impressive gains for contingent faculty members have come from local campaigns waged on a campus-by-campus basis." Labor unions have secured collective bargaining agreements that have the states of part-time faculty. "The gold standard for these contracts has been set by faculty associations in Canadian institutions like Concordia University and the California State University system."
Trevor Griffey, a former adjunct professor in the history department at Long Beach State, begs to differ. He has an interesting article on the blog about his experiences as an adjunct and as a union organizer: "Can Faculty Labor Unions Stop the Decline of Tenure?" The answer seems to be: not really. "Arguably, they have slowed the decline of faculty pay and job security more than they have reversed it," Griffey states. He also explains that two-thirds of all unionized faculty are located in five states: California, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York.
In 2001-2002, the California Faculty Association, the union representing faculty in the California State University system got the California state legislature to commit to having a tenure density of 75 percent. The results were immediate. Cal State schools hired nearly 2,000 new faculty positions--all to the good. The thing is--almost at the same time, the state legislature cut funding to the system by half a billion dollars. What happened? Tuition went up, non-teaching elements of the system were cut to the bone, and salaries for faculty went down. The average is $38,000 and that is in California, which is a bit more expensive than other areas of the country. "The biggest lesson that I take from my brief experience in the CSU system," Griffey observes, "is that college faculty in labor unions currently lack the power to effectively resist or reverse the decline of tenure." Griffey also notes that administrators are not the real problem, although he admits that many in the Faculty Association disagree with him. The real problem is the state legislature, which the union is reluctant to criticizes, for partisan reasons.
The essay is interesting and thoughtful, presenting a complex issue without dumbing it down. I suggest a careful read.