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Mercy Adjuncts Escalate Pay, Benefits Dispute

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October 12, 2021

By Brianna Staudt —

Picket signs and hand-distributed flyers greeted cars at the gate of the prestigious Ardsley Country Club last week as golfers arrived for a Mercy College student scholarship fundraiser.

A modest number of Mercy College adjunct professors, students and union reps were joined there by Westchester County elected officials to rally for higher adjunct pay, a job security program and other benefits.

The rally, timed and located to be maximally visible to college supporters, paired with the physical presence of county officials marked a significant escalation by the union in a two-year-long contract dispute with the college.

Westchester County Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins held a bright orange sign in support of the union.

“When [County Executive George Latimer’s administration] came into office…we resolved the open issues with our contracts with all of our labor unions,” said Jenkins. “[This is] important to us because Mercy College is an important cog to our higher education experience here in Westchester County.”

“It’s important to us to make sure the conversation takes place,” he added.

About 600 adjunct professors — 70 to 75 percent of the workforce — teach the majority of the courses at Mercy College. They’re compensated $3,000 per three-credit course. According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), part-time and non-tenure track faculty make up about 63 percent of faculty nationwide. It also determined the average pay for part-time faculty was $3,556 per three-credit course in the 2019-20 school year.

Mercy adjunct faculty voted to join SEIU Local 200United in 2019. Together with the union, they’re decrying the college’s semester-to-semester hiring basis, and they’re requesting private office space in which to meet with students, professional development funding and retention incentives for long-time faculty who have demonstrated success with students.

“If there’s a professor that I’m feeling very, very comfortable with, that I’m very open with, next semester they might not be here,” explained Mercy Sophomore Angelina Rosario, who rallied with the adjunct professors.  “I may struggle in school. I may not have anyone to talk to. It’s not fair.”

The adjuncts and SEIU point to Fordham University’s recent increase in adjunct pay as a local precedent Mercy refuses to meet. SEIU also represents adjunct faculty at Fordham — it recently won a contract stipulating pay as high as $7,000-$8,000 per course for Fordham adjuncts. However, Mercy management rejects the premise that climates at Mercy and Fordham are comparable. Mercy’s tuition is $19,000 per year; Fordham’s is nearly $55,000.

The parties last met on May 3 and Aug. 27. The May meeting ended when the union walked out. Mercy presented counter-proposals at both meetings.

“The College will continue to operate in good faith to reach an agreement and looks forward to when SEIU resumes negotiations,” said a Mercy College representative.

Mercy College is a four-year, private, non-profit university primarily located in Dobbs Ferry. Only 33 percent of first-time students graduate within four years.

 

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