‘Right now, we’re kind of powerless’: University System faculty, grad students push for collective bargaining rights

By Gabriel Donahue, Editor-in-Chief

Advocates across the University System of Maryland, including some at Towson University, have been pushing for the passage of legislation that would grant faculty and graduate students collective bargaining rights and the right to unionize.  

A pair of bills, House Bill 275 and Senate Bill 247, would establish “separate collective bargaining units for faculty, part-time faculty, and graduate assistants; and [alter] the procedures for petitions, elections, and certification applicable to the bargaining units for faculty and part-time faculty.” 

HB275 defines collective bargaining as “good faith negotiations” between the employer and representatives of the employees — usually a union. 

Through negotiations, a memorandum of understanding would be created that clarifies “terms and conditions of employment,” including wages and hours, the bill said.

A small group of Towson faculty members attended a panel event discussing collective bargaining rights for University System employees on Sept. 28 at Red Emma’s, a worker-owned bookstore and café in Baltimore. 

Organizers of that event, including members of the American Association of University Professors, encouraged attendees to call their representatives and submit favorable testimonies to get the bills passed. 

There is not a strong network of organizing for collective bargaining among Towson faculty and graduate students. Diane Luchese, a professor of music theory, said the University of Maryland College Park is spearheading the movement.

Luchese said most faculty are happy with their jobs, but collective bargaining would provide the security to bring forth issues without fear of retaliation, especially for non-tenure-track professors. 

“You can go years and years and years, but when that thing comes up, you’re powerless,” she said in an interview. “Right now, we’re kind of powerless.” 

A senate bill passed in 2001 established collective bargaining rights for University System employees among other state workers. 

However, that bill went on to exclude System employees who are “a member of the faculty, including a faculty librarian; a student employee, including a teaching assistant or a comparable position, fellow, or post doctoral intern.” 

The colleges within the University System adhere to shared governance. Towson University’s Academic Senate is a shared governing body led by faculty members. 

However, one tenure-track professor, who wished to remain unnamed in fear of retaliation, said in an interview that administrators have the right to overturn any decisions made by the Academic Senate and its committees. 

“Shared governance at the moment is just a myth,” she said. 

In similar testimonies in February 2022 and 2023, Dean of Graduate Studies Sidd Kaza opposed the bills on behalf of Towson University to their respective committees. Kaza referred The Towerlight to these testimonies in response to a request for an interview for this article. 

The testimonies focused on collective bargaining for graduate students. Kaza said it would have a negative impact on “faculty and student research productivity,” arguing that research projects would receive less funding due to increased student salaries and benefits. 

He also said that the number of positions available to graduate students would decrease if stipends were to increase, or those students could see a decline in “take home pay.” 

Stephanie Anderson, a graduate student intern for Grantwriting In Valued Environments in the Towson English Department, has a $3,000 semesterly stipend. This averages out to $18.50 per hour, a pay rate greater than that of undergraduate student employees, but Anderson said it is not enough to live off of. 

She said she has two part time jobs as a part time student. 

Luchese suggested that graduate students may not always be fairly compensated for the amount of hours they work. She said she monitors her graduate student assistants to ensure they do not work longer than they will be paid for. 

For those with collective bargaining rights, the University System has been in negotiations with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees for over a year in a process of consolidated collective bargaining, it said in an emailed statement.

Consolidated collective bargaining would create a master agreement system-wide that individual agreements can build upon, according to Linda He, the communications director for AFSCME Council 3. 

Towson employees have not joined these negotiations, He said.

Gabe Donahue has held numerous positions within The Towerlight. He started as a writer before becoming the News Editor, and now he serves as Editor-in-Chief.


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