In March, non-tenure track (NTT) faculty began talks with the Occidental administration to negotiate a new contract, according to Jeffrey Miller, resident associate professor in the Mathematics Department and one of four members of the NTT union’s bargaining team. NTT faculty’s current contract is set to expire in June 2023, Miller said.
NTT faculty first formed a union at the end of the 2018-19 academic year, according to Kevin Urstadt, visiting assistant professor in the Cognitive Science Department and an NTT union member. Urstadt said the union has two main goals for its current negotiations with Occidental.
“The big focus ones that we’re looking at right now are increased wages and more longevity of our work situation,” Urstadt said.
NTT faculty members are not tenured and are not on a path to being tenured, so they have less job security, according to Miller. Their contracts could be for one-year, two-year, three-year or even five-year periods, and he said part of the reason he got involved with the union was the job insecurity of NTT faculty.
“I think for me, the thing that hurts the most is to see a colleague not come back,” Miller said. “To see the look on a colleague’s face when they find out they’re not supposed to come back and wondering why and wondering how they’re going to feed their families again. And you know, ‘What did I do wrong?’ And so much happens in an environment of unclarity that it just kind of got to me a little bit.”
Jamie Angell, a resident professor of Theater & Performance Studies and NTT faculty union member, has been working for Occidental since 1991.
“There’s a reliance on non-tenured faculty who’ve been here for a long time,” Angell said. “And we’d like to have that reliance be reflected in our wages.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, NTT faculty had unionized and begun to negotiate with Occidental, but certain discussions were put on hold due to the pandemic, according to Miller. He said that they were working with an attorney and organizer to start drafting a contract, but put off talking about finances until it was too late and the pandemic hit.
“And then we had to stop talking about finances because what the college said was, ‘This pandemic? Complete unknown. We have no idea about our financial wellness,’” Miller said.
Miller said that NTT faculty had attempted negotiations with the college prior to unionizing, but that he felt they were going nowhere. He said the union has a good relationship with the administration overall.
“If you’re not the one that’s having a hard time feeding your family, then you may in theory understand what it’s like to not have enough money to feed your family, but you don’t feel it,” Miller said. “And so it becomes a slightly less of a priority.”
Angell said that before unionizing, the fact that per unit payment of NTT employees varied by department (and even within departments) was a focus of the NTT employee organization.
“The one eye-opening moment for me was when I saw that a professor in my own department was being so woefully underpaid compared to me, and I just couldn’t understand how that could happen,” Angell said.
The NTT faculty presented this information to the administration, and the college regularized the pay for NTT faculty, before they had a union, according to Angell.
Urstadt said he has tabled in the Academic Quad to raise awareness about the union and its goals. Miller said NTT faculty have received overwhelming support for their union activities.
“One of the really great things about this campus is we have always been supported by students and our tenured colleagues,” Miller said. “We’re being heard more.”