DURHAM — Some Duke University faculty, students and Durham community members showed support Monday for what they call a historic union victory, after a recent vote to join the Service Employees International Union. (SEIU)
The effort started last year, when Duke Teaching First was formed to bring awareness about contingent faculty working conditions on campus.
"We noticed there was kind of a lack of transparency in the career path of teachers here also some teachers have very short contracts, like one semester long contract, no benefits and so we thought that it was something that teachers don't deserve and students don't deserve,” said Matteo Gilebbi, a Duke University Senior Lecturing Fellow and Cultural Advisor.
Full and part-time non-tenure-track faculty voted 174 to 29 in favor of joining SEIU, which marks the first faculty union election at a private university in the south in decades.
"Union is still a bad word in a right to work state, or in the south. In our opinion, the union is workers who want to get together and improve their working, condition,” said Gilebbi.
Gilebbi, who’s taught at the university since 2009, says the hundreds of faculty joining this union can share ideas on how to improve working conditions.
"Duke as an institution should not allow to have such short contracts, no benefits, no transparency, no clear career path for these educated teachers,” he said.
Union members are now conducting surveys based on key issues they would like to see addressed. For some it’s pay raises and job security, for others it’s benefits like family leave.
"I can't tell you how many people I know who plan pregnancies around summer school and summer vacations so you know they can become moms and stay on the track and not lose any money,” said Eileen Anderson, a Duke University Lecturing Fellow.
Some Duke students are assisting the union’s efforts.
"Wages have been stagnating, people have been finding it harder to make ends meet and right now we are really part of a national movement to turn the tide,” said Duke University junior Zoe Willingham.
Gilebi hopes other schools will follow suit.
"Maybe in other right to work states, people will start thinking about getting together and working together to improve their working condition,” he said.
Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations released a statement about the recent vote to unionize. It read “We respect the decision of Duke’s adjunct faculty to form a union and remain committed to their success as valuable contributors to the university’s academic mission.”