PLU students rally to support union effort by contingent faculty members

By Cassady Coulter Dianne McGinness -First published in the News Tribune

Students, faculty and staff rally Wednesday in support of contingent faculty members at Pacific Lutheran University. (CASSADY COULTER/contributing photographer)
Students, faculty and staff rally Wednesday in support of contingent faculty members at Pacific Lutheran University. (CASSADY COULTER/contributing photographer)

“Down, down, down with exploitation! Up, up, up with education!” students of Pacific Lutheran University chanted as they marched to show their support for contingent faculty Wednesday morning.

Rallied together in PLU’s Red Square, more than 50 students equipped with signs and wearing red clothing stood together to support International Workers’ Day, also known as May Day.

May Day is a celebration of the labor movement and is celebrated officially in more than 80 countries as a national holiday.

The PLU club Students of the Left organized the May Day workers’ rights rally in Red Square to bring together students and faculty alike to show support for both the working class and PLU’s contingent faculty’s right to unionize.

The News Tribune reported earlier this week that the university, which has held occasional conversations for months with representatives of temporary faculty members, has filed objections with the National Labor Relations Board to an election that would determine whether the Service Employees International Union will represent 176 contingent faculty members in negotiations concerning wages, benefits and working conditions.

Contingent employees typically are hired on a course-by-course basis to augment the work of regular faculty members. At PLU, and many other higher education institutions, they are paid less per course, and those who teach fewer than three courses a year receive no benefits.

Troy Storfjell, associate professor of Norwegian and Scandinavian Studies at PLU, expressed his concern with the university’s stance on contingent faculty members’ unionization before the rally began.

“When some of us are exploited in an institution, none of us should be comfortable,” he said.

A former vice president of the American Association of University Professors, Storfjell has been working to progress the rights of his colleagues.

“Even with all the hours they are putting in, they are still making less than minimum wage, and it is happening everywhere in the U.S.” he said. “It exploits the faculty.”

The idea for Wednesday’s rally began with a new on-campus organization, Students of the Left, headed by PLU senior Kenny Stancil.

“We believe there are alternatives and we should be fighting for those alternatives,” Stancil said. “It’s not just for faculty alone; it’s for basic human beings.”

Natasha Laitila is a first-year student at PLU on scholarship and said she even struggles to make ends meet.

“I support contingent faculty because both of my parents work full-time jobs and don’t get the benefits they need,” Laitila said.

Michael Ng, a contingent faculty member and lecturer of Classics in the Humanities Division at PLU, marched alongside his students, and at the rally in Red Square, he spoke about the inequality contingent faculty members face.

Ng said he works at three universities in order to make a living wage. He said one of his jobs isn’t even in the United States.

“We are supporting the right of workers to unionize,” he said.

Ng added, “This is about you, the students. Everything we do is for our students.”

Though no counter-protesters were present at the rally, one man clad in all black walked through the rally and ripped the front banner.

“A guy ran through our leading banner and then forcefully bumped into people in the crowd,” senior Sara Stiehl said. “I couldn’t tell if he was being disrespectful or just ignorant.”

Other than this incident, the protesters did not experience any other opposition on Wednesday.

Staff writer John Gillie and Pacific Lutheran University student Carrie Reierson contributed to this report.

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