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University of Chicago non-tenured faculty vote to join union

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Part-time and full-time faculty who are not tenured or on the tenure track at the highly ranked University of Chicago have voted to join a union, organizers announced on Wednesday.

People walk through the Main Quadrangle at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, United States, November 30, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young

Mail-in ballots were counted on Wednesday morning, and a Service Employees International Union statement said that 81 percent of non-tenure-track instructors who voted agreed to unionize.

So-called contingent faculty members also have organized at Georgetown, Tufts and Boston universities in response to what supporters say is the growing use of lower-paid non-tenured or non-tenure-track instructors at colleges and universities.

The vote affects about 175 instructors, according to a university spokesman. As a bargaining unit with the SEIU, organizers say they will be able to negotiate with the school over employment conditions, including salary, benefits and job security.

“Winning our union election shows that we’re all in this together; it is in everyone’s interest to reverse the trends that have marginalized our profession,” said Darcy Lear, a lecturer at the University of Chicago.

Provost Eric Isaacs confirmed that the university would negotiate with the union. He told faculty in a statement that he greatly valued “the contributions of every member of our community to our shared mission of intellectual engagement, teaching, and research,” and thanked them for their dedication.

Dan Raeburn, a lecturer in the creative writing department for 10 years, said he makes $50,000 a year, about $11,000 less than the average Illinois public school teacher, according to the National Education Association. But Raeburn said he was lucky compared with colleagues who make $25,000 a year - half the cost of the school’s annual tuition - and do not get benefits.

Raeburn said many part- and full-time non-tenure faculty worked more than one job to make ends meet.

“If you’re good enough to teach here, you’re good enough to be employed here,” said Raeburn.

Part-time humanities lecturer Andrew Yale said 41 percent of University of Chicago faculty are not on the tenure track. The school is ranked fourth in the country by U.S. News and World Report.

Nationally, about 76 percent of all university instructors are contingent, according to the Washington-based American Association of University Professors. That is up from 55 percent in 1975, said Yale.

Isaacs had expressed concern in a letter to colleagues last month that the presence of a union would remove much of the flexibility that currently exists to work with individual appointees.

Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Peter Cooney and Diane Craft