A union allows working people, including college and university faculty, to collectively make vital improvements to their workplace. Unions make it easier for workers to advocate for themselves and to articulate their perspectives to both employers and the broader community. Many unions—including ours—enable employees to bargain collectively with their employer to determine their terms of employment at legally mandated negotiating sessions that produce legally binding agreements. Individual instructors are rarely able to address working conditions that have a negative effect on them and their students, but joining together in collective bargaining allows them to harness the strength in numbers for their areas of concern.
Why did Duke faculty form a union?
Duke non-regular rank faculty voted overwhelmingly to form a union because we wanted to improve our working conditions and make sure that Duke prioritizes teaching and scholarship. While we have always loved teaching and mentoring Duke students, when we began meeting and comparing notes, we realized that many problems were common across departments. For example, some faculty had been on semester-to-semester or nine-month contracts for a decade or more. This uncertainty was needless and had real repercussions when faculty attempted to apply for mortgages or make long-term plans about their professional and personal lives. Our contract has created more equitable and predictable employment conditions for non-tenure track faculty, meaning that faculty can focus their time and energy on students, as opposed to finding the next gig. We believe strongly that this enhances the equality of our students’ educational experiences. Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.
Who is in charge of our union?
While we as members make all of the decisions for our own union, we have access to the historical knowledge of union officials who are conversant in the challenges we face. Our current contract was ratified by members, and we have elected officers from among the membership who oversee the implementation of the contract. We all shape our union by attending general meetings, serving on committees, electing officers, participating in surveys, and coming to bargaining sessions.
What is SEIU?
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 120,000 members in public and private higher education in the United States, including more than 54,000 graduate workers and faculty at more than 60 campuses, including the University of Chicago, Georgetown, Tufts, Boston University, Northeastern University, and George Washington University. As non-tenure track faculty, we have decided that forming a union with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is the best way for contingent faculty here at Duke to receive the respect, recognition and security we deserve. While we are self-governing, our affiliation with the SEIU gives us access to resources—such as seasoned negotiators and experienced labor lawyers—that we could not provide on our own.
Information for members and potential members
Who is covered by the current bargaining agreement/eligible to join the union?
Non-regular rank faculty in the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, Graduate School and Center for Documentary Studies who are referred to as either Instructors or Lecturing Fellows in their appointment letters are covered by the bargaining agreement, regardless of whether they are members. In order to influence your union’s decisions and avoid being a free-rider who benefits from the actions of others, you must become a member.
Can I be fired for joining or supporting the union?
ABSOLUTELY NOT! It is illegal for employers to discriminate against employees’ union activity. Read more here.
How do I contact my union rep?
Each department has been assigned at least one “cluster representative”—a union member who keeps members up to date on new developments, answer questions about the contract and the union, and helps members address workplace issues. Information about who your cluster reps are and how to contact them can be found here. You can also become a cluster representative. It’s a great way to help out and get to know your fellow faculty. There can never be too many cluster reps.
How do I learn about union meetings and activities?
We encourage all members to come to general body meetings and social events, such as our summer film series. The best way to get involved in your union and to meet awesome colleagues is by joining a committee. Even if you are only at Duke for a semester, you can still make an impact.
What is the relationship between our union and other progressive movements?
As union members, we are part of a broader campaign for workers’ rights. In addition to feeling morally obligated to seek justice for fellow workers, we recognize that our union cannot thrive in the absence of a strong labor movement. At our first general body meeting, our members decided that we should prioritize campaigns that promote racial justice and defend workers’ rights in the Research Triangle. We also stand in solidarity with colleagues at other colleges and universities, and are committed to supporting national efforts to ensure that teaching and scholarship are priorities at institutions of higher education. As part of our commitment to the broader labor movement, our members attend the Durham Worker’s Assembly, participated in the Poor People’s Campaign, and joined public school teachers in the March for Students and Rally for Respect. Many of these activities are planned by our Solidarity Committee. Contact Cathy Shuman if you interested in joining the committee, or being added to the listserv.
How does our union decide when to issue a statement on a current issue or event?
In keeping with our mission to articulate the perspective of non-regular rank Duke faculty to the broader community, we occasionally issue statements on national or local issues that are of concern to our members. To ensure that our statements reflect the opinions of our members, we have adopted the following protocol: Any union member can propose such a statement to the executive board, if they provide relevant contextual information and draft the statement itself (a paragraph or two) This material will go to the Executive Board, members of which will have 24 hours to make comments and edits or to block the statement. If the statement is not blocked, it is sent to membership for an up or down vote (with space for optional comments to be read by the Board). The vote will last 48 hours. If a majority of members who vote on the statement agree, the Executive Board will issue the statement. At the discretion of the President, voting will be shortened to 24 hours for time-sensitive matters.
How do I apply for professional development funding?
In accordance with the terms of our contract, Duke has established a professional development fund for bargaining unit members, and will make $50,000 available each year of the contract. These funds can be used for to support attendance at an academic conference or other relevant professional development activity related to teaching, scholarship, artistic or professional practice at Duke University. Non-regular rank faculty can apply for up to $1000 in funding per calendar year. Applications should be made online. You must receive prior approval before incurring any costs. We encourage you to apply early. Once the $50,000 has been spent, it will not be renewed until the following fiscal year. Feel free to contract your union rep if you have questions about the process.
How much are member dues?
Dues are 1.5% of your monthly paycheck, up to $50 a month. If your paycheck is zero for a particular month, dues will not be deducted.
What is the Committee on Political Education (COPE)?
I am a student. How can I support the Duke Faculty union?
We love working with Duke students and are honored to have received support from students. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to learn about opportunities for solidarity.
I work at Duke as a staff member or tenure track faculty member. How can I support the Duke Faculty Union?
Many of our events—including our summer film series and grading parties—are open to all Duke employees. Follow us on Facebook and twitter to learn more about opportunities for solidarity. We also welcome Duke employees to participate in our political campaigns and advocacy work. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to join our non-member listserv.
What are my options if I’m a non-tenure track faculty member or graduate student who isn’t covered by the current bargaining agreement?