Duke Non-Tenure Track Faculty are Forming a Union: Questions and Answers 

Non Regular Rank Election Questions:

Who is eligible to vote in the upcoming election?
Non-regular rank faculty teaching this semester in the Trinity School of Arts and Sciences, the Center for Documentary Studies, and the Graduate School are eligible to vote in this election. We are also continuing to build support among non-tenure track, regular rank faculty. If you have not already joined the effort, the first step you can take is filling out this union authorization card. You can also contact regular rank members of the Organizing Committee by sending an email to duketeachingfirst@gmail.com.

How do I vote? When is the voting period?
The non-regular rank election will be conducted by mail-in ballot. The ballots will be mailed to your home on Thursday, March 3. We recommend returning it as quickly as possible, as all ballots must arrive in the National Labor Relations Board office in Winston-Salem by Thursday, March 17 or they will not be valid. The counting of the votes will occur on Friday, March 18.

What are my options if I’m not covered in the current proposed bargaining unit?
Non-tenure track, regular rank faculty are continuing to organize. We are interested in talking with regular rank faculty members about their ideas and experiences. Please contact us at duketeachingfirst@gmail.com to get more involved.

General Questions:

Why are Duke faculty forming a union? 

Because we want to improve our working conditions and make sure teaching and scholarship are the priority at Duke. With our union, we will have a stronger, more unified voice for our profession. More than 40% of Duke faculty are off the tenure track. While we love teaching at Duke, there’s room for improvements, such as improved access to professional development funds to keep up with advances in the field. We believe strongly that creating more equitable and predictable employment conditions for non-tenure track faculty will enhance the quality of our students’ educational experiences. Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.

Who will be in charge of our union? 

We will make all of the decisions for our own union. We will have officers and our own union contract approval of contracts will be decided by a majority vote, but all members can help shape our union through bargaining surveys, serving on committees, and electing officers. All of the proposals for our contract will come from us. And during the process of achieving a contract with the school, we will decide when the proposed contract is good enough to be ratified by a majority vote.

What is Duke Teaching First? SEIU Faculty Forward? 

Duke Teaching First is an organization of non-tenure track faculty at Duke who are concerned about the future of higher education and working conditions of contingent faculty at Duke.

As non-tenure track faculty, we have decided that forming a union with SEIU Faculty Forward is the best way for contingent faculty here at Duke to receive the respect, recognition and security we deserve.

SEIU is the Service Employees International Union, which is the largest and fastest growing union in the country with 2 million members in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. SEIU represents 75,000 members in public and private higher education in the United States. Faculty Forward includes the 37,000 college and university faculty who are members of SEIU.

How does a union work? 

Having a union empowers people to make positive changes where they work. Having a union does not guarantee any particular improvement or benefit, but a union is the tool working people, including college and university faculty, use to make improvements where they work. Through the power of collective bargaining, instructors across the country have won a voice at the table and have won the right to negotiate with their college and university administrations.

I am full-time but not tenure-track. How does this apply to me? 

Whether you are full or part-time, we all need a strong voice to do our jobs better. Together, part-time and full-time contract faculty comprise a large percentage of the teaching staff at Duke and share many of the same concerns, for example, around job security. With a union, all contingent faculty could bargain for continuous appointments and dismissal only for “just cause.” Working alongside each other on common goals would benefit everyone.

What have others achieved by forming a union? 

Across the country, faculty have negotiated contracts that have won: pay increases, the establishment or expansion of professional development funds, “just cause” clauses protecting members from arbitrary discipline or discharge, a defined rate of compensation in the event of course cancellation, among other improvements. Because this is our union, what we achieve in bargaining will reflect our priorities and issues specific to Duke University. Most importantly, forming a union will allow us to have a voice in determining our working conditions.

How will the administration respond? 

While it’s typical for a university administration to launch a campaign that tries to convince us to change our minds about forming a union, feeling they are best equipped to address our concerns, most faculty realize that standing together to build a union is the best choice for all of us. We invite the Duke administration to take a neutral stance on the union and let us make this important decision for ourselves.

Whatever the administration’s response, our union activity is protected by the law and the strength of our numbers. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) Section 8(a) prohibits an employer from threatening us for voting “yes,” interrogating us about union activity, promising any benefit for voting “no” or surveilling any union activity (meetings, events, etc.).

How much will dues be? 

Forming a union allows us to pool our resources and make a bigger difference on campus. No one pays dues until we have: 1) formed our union; 2) negotiated our first contract, and 3.) voted as a group to approve our contract. In other words, we will not pay any money into the union before we know exactly what gains we’ve achieved through collective bargaining.

How long will this take? 

The voting usually happens four to six weeks after the cards are filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for an election, but the process may take longer. Once the ballots are counted, if there are more “yes” votes than “no” votes, we will then have a seat at the table with Duke to improve our pay, benefits and working conditions by negotiating a union contract.

What can I do to help?

The first step to build the union is to sign a union authorization card.  As soon as possible, we will file cards with the NLRB. Then, we’ll have our election to form our union. Once we win that election, we will have a union and we’ll begin bargaining for the improvements we want to see at Duke.