Unions, Education Advocates Renew Push for Collective Bargaining Rights at Community Colleges

Del. Keith E. Haynes (D-Baltimore City). Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Nicole Clem has been an adjunct professor at Prince George’s Community College since 2016, teaching English language learners. Although more than half of the college’s faculty is made up of adjunct professors, they do not have employee benefits or collective bargaining rights.

“As an adjunct, you’re in such a tenuous position; you only get hired for one semester at a time,” Clem said in an interview with Maryland Matters.

The instructors are often left out of policy conversations about working conditions and student learning, Clem continued. For example, Clem said she is only notified that her class will be offered less than a week before the beginning of the semester. This creates a lot of anxiety around lesson planning.

“It’s hard to sit down and spend hours planning and preparing for that class, thinking in the back of your head, ‘I just might be a fool when they tell me that it’s cancelled,’” Clem said. “And I will have spent all these hours away from my family, preparing for a class that never runs.”

The alternative, however, is waiting until getting notice that her class is indeed running — but this curtails time for lesson planning, which is “not a comfortable way to start a semester” either, Clem said.

Although nonfaculty employees, such as maintenance workers, nurses and college police, are represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) at Prince George’s Community College, faculty and adjunct faculty are not, according to Courtney Davis, assistant director of public relations for PGCC.

Similarly, Baltimore City Community College and the Community College of Baltimore County have bargaining rights for at least some employees, while Montgomery College has bargaining rights many employees, including faculty.

“The fact that we don’t even have this right that K through 12 teachers have; Montgomery College has a union. Why exclude the other community colleges in Maryland?” Clem said “It doesn’t make any sense — that’s a lack of justice, right there.”

The Maryland Community College Employees Freedom to Collectively Bargain Act of 2021, sponsored by Del. Keith E. Haynes (D-Baltimore City), would expand bargaining rights to employees at all of Maryland’s 16 community colleges.

Similar bills have been introduced every year since 2014 and have rarely gotten past a first hearing. But union leaders contend that this year is different, as a more robust statewide coalition of at least 12 labor unions and education advocacy groups are endorsing this year’s bill.

Under Haynes’ measure, workers could bargain wages, work hours, other terms and conditions of employment and the procedures for membership dues. Strikes would be prohibited.

Each community college could establish up to six bargaining units: one for full-time faculty, one for part-time faculty, one for remaining eligible exempt employees, two for eligible nonexempt employees and one for sworn police officers.

The bill would provide a framework for community college employees to unionize and hold elections on their own if they wanted to — but it does not mandate unionization. It simply grants all community college employees the legal right to bargain collectively.

In a campaign video made by union leaders that will be released Wednesday evening, state lawmakers express support for the bill.

“We know that it’s so important that we bring [adjunct professors] to the table, that we unmute our faculty and listen to their voice and concerns,” Del. Julian Ivey (D-Prince George’s) said.

House Majority Leader Del. Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery), Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery) and Del. Lesley J. Lopez (D-Montgomery) are also featured in the video, endorsing the bill.

“As we recover from COVID and try to make sense of the new world that we’re all trying to rebuild, I know that community colleges are going to have a front row seat to that, they’re going to have a huge role in building that future that we all deserve,” Lopez said.

“In order to do that, you need to have workplace rights, you need to make sure that people have a say in what’s going on in their workplace,” she continued.

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