Duke faculty vote yes!

duke faculty

In a landmark victory for non-tenured faculty across the country, Duke non-regular-rank faculty have voted overwhelmingly to join SEIU. On Friday, March 18, votes from the all-mail ballot election were counted at the Winston-Salem office of the National Labor Relations Board—yielding a resounding 174-29 tally in favor of a union.

Our victory marks the first faculty union election at a private university in the South in decades. The effort started last year when we formed Duke Teaching First to bring awareness about contingent faculty working conditions on campus. Now, we join over 10,000 college instructors who have joined SEIU in the past three years. Alongside our colleagues at the University of Chicago, this is the second victory in four months at a school ranked in the top 10 of U.S. News Ranking of national universities.

Our victory reflects an 85 percent vote in favor of forming a union—a momentous victory for non-tenure-track faculty, and the entire Duke community.

“This historic win makes official what has been going on over the past year on Duke’s campus: that is, faculty have been finding each other, sharing our experiences with each other, and perhaps most importantly, sharing our ideas for how to improve the conditions of non-tenure-track faculty at Duke,” said MJ Sharp, an instructor at the Center for Documentary Studies. “With our union, we will now be empowered to help bring those ideas to fruition to the betterment of teaching, learning, and research conditions at Duke. We could never have arrived at this moment without the tremendous outpouring of student, alumni, faculty, and community support. We have been humbled by their unflagging efforts on our behalf and look forward to honoring their support.”

Duke is the largest employer in Durham County, and third largest private employer in North Carolina behind only Wal-Mart and Food Lion. The university had a $404 million operating surplus according to the 2014 federal IRS filing, but 41 percent of faculty do not have access to tenure, mirroring established national trends toward a contingent workforce at America’s colleges and universities.

Union membership in North Carolina increased last year, despite wealthy actors waging a multi-front battle against working families in the courts and statehouses across the nation.

“Faculty in higher education across the country are joining together in this union movement because we are concerned about the future of our profession,” Chris Shreve, an instructor in biology, said. “Despite legislative and legal attempts to weaken the voice of all working people, we are committed to standing together. Our victory demonstrates that no matter where you live or what job you do, when we come together and speak with a unified voice, we are stronger and we can accomplish anything, even the seemingly impossible.”

Duke is the latest to join what has become a fast-growing union movement, as faculty come together to take on a crisis in higher education that has turned what was once a good middle-class profession into a job without stability or a voice in workplace decisions. Faculty at nearly 40 schools in 11 states and the District of Columbia have voted to join SEIU in the past three years.  In addition to Duke University, contingent faculty have won elections in recent months at the University of Southern California, Brandeis University and St. Charles Community College. Full-time faculty at Boston University filed for a union election on March 4 and professors at University of Minnesota filed for an election earlier this year.

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