United Academics provides security for UO faculty

Galen Martin has been with the University of Oregon since 1985 after finishing his master’s degree here. Now a senior instructor in the department of international studies, Martin had previously struggled as an adjunct professor after teaching at the UO for 14 years in various departments.

Before UO faculty unionized and formed United Academics in 2013, Martin faced difficulties in supporting his family without the benefits of working as a full-time faculty member.

“My wife was self-employed at some point, so I was supporting my whole family with my benefits and there was no consistent policy about it…at one point the benefits office decided that you had to be more than half-time in one department to get benefits,” Martin said.

Martin negotiated with three different departments to put his contract together. There was at least a year and a half where Martin was working full-time but because he was employed part-time in various departments, he was not considered a full-time employee.

As an adjunct professor, Martin’s pay varied as much as $3,200 to $6,000 depending on which department hired him. Eventually, Martin became a senior instructor and questioned the logic of hiring faculty members as adjunct for an extended amount of time.

“Adjunct indicates that you are just being hired on a short-term basis,” Martin said. “I was an adjunct for 15 to 20 years, which doesn’t make sense. That’s not an adjunct. At some point, the institution that hires you year after year should handle that.”

United Academics has addressed the problems of accurate classification and inconsistent pay that Martin faced prior to its formation.

“We had an election that resulted in about 56 or 57 percent of the faculty voted in favor of unionizing,” UA President Michael Dreiling said. “It was a significant majority – we’re talking out of 1,800 people.”

That vote was verified by the Employment Relations Board of Oregon. Then the group bargained with the UO for about 11 months, finally ratifying a contract in October 2013. Once the contract was ratified, the union elected their officers and representatives to the representative assembly.

“It was a lot of work, but it’s a good kind of work,” Dreiling said. “It’s satisfying work because we see the effects.”

The contract allowed for the reclassification of adjunct professors like Martin, as well as raises for all faculty.

Bill Brady, senior director of employee and labor relations, said that the formation of the union has led to the development of policies that will provide more consistency in how the faculty interact within their departments and with the administration.

“We are going to have a more positive environment for collaboration with our faculty and administration and that is going to impact students,” Brady said. “There will be a positive impact on students because of that sense of collaboration and shared ownership of how we want the institution to move forward.”

According to Martin, the formation of United Academics will benefit students.

“Students benefit because there’s more consistency in hiring, there’s more commitment to the teaching process,” Martin said. “Anybody who feels more appreciated and being paid a decent wage is probably going to be happier about their job, and if they’re happier about their job, they’re probably going to do a better job.”

“In the end, that’s what this is about: it’s about providing better classes and better teaching for students.”

Follow Francesca Fontana on Twitter @francescamarief

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Francesca Fontana

Francesca Fontana

Francesca is the associate news editor for community news.
She worked as The Register-Guard's 2015 Snowden Intern, and studies journalism and economics.