In narrow victory, Miami Dade College adjunct professors win right to form union

Miami Dade College, Kendall Campus
Miami Dade College, Kendall Campus

The adjunct faculty at Miami Dade College have officially won the right to form a union.

The part-time professors, who make up a majority of MDC’s total faculty, won a narrow 14-vote victory on Wednesday to form a union with the Florida arm of the Service Employees International Union to lobby for increased wages, health benefits, added transparency in course assignment and — most importantly — negotiating power.

About 42 percent of the 2,790 eligible voters cast ballots in the month-long election, and the votes were tallied Wednesday in Tallahassee by Public Employees Relations Commission election agents. The state office conducts all union elections in Florida.

Pro-union faculty edged out opposed voters by a slim margin, 587 Yes votes and 573 No votes, said PERC Elections Supervisor Eddie Johnson. With a simple majority of the 1,162 total votes cast needed to win the election, the pro-union voters narrowly met the threshold of 582 votes.

“It was a close vote and the union prevailed,” Johnson said.

The SEIU’s Florida Public Services Union, which represents adjunct professors at Broward College and the University of South Florida, said Miami Dade College will soon be home to the largest adjunct union in Florida and the “largest single-school adjunct collective bargaining unit in the country.”

Before the state can officially certify the results of the election, Miami Dade College has 15 days to file any objections. Juan Mendieta, an MDC spokesman, said the college would not file any objections, guaranteeing the pro-union faculty the victory they have worked toward since they filed to have an election last July.

“Their voice was heard, and we’d like to express our continuous support to our adjunct faculty as they transition into a new chapter with the SEIU,” Mendieta wrote in a statement. “Their good work never goes unnoticed.”

The next steps for the adjuncts, once the state certifies their victory, are to compile a platform of agreed-upon proposals, select a committee of bargaining representatives and eventually negotiate a contract with the college.

Of the 2,862 total faculty employed at MDC in the fall of 2017, about 74 percent — or 2,127 faculty members — were part-time employees, according to data gathered by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Over the past two years, more than half — or about 9,000 — of Florida’s adjunct professors have joined a union or are organizing toward unionization, according to SEIU.

Stacey Wadle, an adjunct professor in the business and English departments at MDC, flew to Tallahasee on Wednesday morning to see the ballots get counted.

One of the leaders of the local unionization push, Wadle said she shared hugs with a handful of her colleagues as the election results became clear.

Wadle, 53, said winning the election was the first step toward a more equitable relationship between adjuncts and the administration.

In the coming weeks, her group will reach out to adjunct professors and begin crafting a platform that they will eventually present to the administration. Wadle said she sees the narrow margin of victory as evidence that her colleagues, on either side, were “engaged in the process.”

“This is the time to build a coalition,” she said. “Even the people that didn’t vote or voted No, we want to hear from them. We want to have them [be] a part of this.”

Wadle, who has a Master’s in Science in elementary education from Nova Southeastern University and an MBA from the University of Miami, joined the unionization effort after seeing her yearly pay hover around $20,000 despite teaching six courses per year on average.

Adjunct faculty make $2,460 per three-credit course and are not eligible to receive medical benefits. Wadle said adjuncts can teach a maximum of nine courses per semester, but that the allocation process lacks transparency. It’s common for adjuncts to teach at multiple colleges, which poses a challenge in gridlock-riddled metro areas like Miami.

Nationwide, 31 percent of part-time faculty live near or below the poverty line, according to 2015 data. In Florida, it’s 27 percent.

More than 150 teachers crammed into the Tamarac headquarters of the Broward Teachers Union for an emergency meeting to provide emotional guidance and support.

Part-time faculty at MDC will join five other schools in the Florida College System with a unionized adjunct workforce, according to WLRN. Because Florida is a right-to-work state, union fees are not mandatory requirements for adjunct professors whose interests will be represented by the union.

“Our fight for a union at Miami Dade College isn’t just about our wages or the lack of respect we face every day; it’s about standing up as educators at the largest college in the nation and saying enough is enough,” said Ximena Barrientos, an adjunct professor of earth sciences at Miami Dade College, in a statement released by SEIU. “We’re tired of watching our students go to food banks because tuition keeps rising. I’m tired of worrying about bill collectors when I should be worried about lesson plans. By standing up with one voice, we can demand the investment we need for our students and colleagues throughout Florida.”