Adjunct Faculty Allege Harassment Retaliation While Fighting for Union Democracy

On January 28, 2013, Kathryn Re, an adjunct professor at Green River Community College in Washington State, sent a ten page letter to Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association. In the letter, Re lays out her argument asking the NEA to assume “immediate trusteeship” of her local, United Faculty (UF), which is a joint AFT-NEA local. Re also sent a similar letter to Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, asking the AFT to assume “administratorship” of the UF.

The letters were written on behalf of the Green River Adjunct Faculty Association, which was formed in November, 2011 to serve as a “union flying squad” for adjuncts. Though the adjuncts comprise two-thirds of the faculty at Green River, ninety percent of the adjuncts have chosen not to become members of the union, which has long been dominated by tenured faculty. Four members of the union’s Executive Board also hold positions as Division Chairs who assign classes to adjuncts. Adjunct faculty cannot directly elect their own union representatives. The UF has reserved only two seats for adjuncts on the Executive Board, and all positions are filled by a vote that includes both full-time and part-time faculty.

Re’s charges, backed by emails from the accused, includes discrimination, harassment, and retaliation by full-time faculty against adjunct faculty leaders, along with accusations of union financial corruption and cover up, elections fraud, and refusal to provide fair representation to the adjuncts.

P.D. Lesko of AdjunctNation.com has done five investigative articles on the theft of funds by Phil Jack, who was formerly the head of the United Faculty union at Green River, and the alleged cover up and retaliation by the UF. An audit of the union’s bank accounts showed that Jack had misappropriated over $9,000 in an 18 month period in 2010-2011, in part to cover his gambling debts. UF members were not told about the misappropriation until months later, in April of 2012.

Mark Millbauer, the current president of UF, initially told Lesko that the theft had been reported to local police, but the police reports do not substantiate this. A spokesperson from the King County’s Executive Office stated that union officials told the police the matter would be handled internally, thereby preventing police from conducting an investigation or filing charges against Jack, a charge which Millbauer has denied. Union members have still not been provided with the audit, and do not know how the theft occurred, or what steps, if any, have been taken to prevent further thefts.

In May of 2012, student reporters at Green River Community College’s newspaper, The Current, reported on the resignation of Phil Jack. As students at The Current prepared to break the news of Phil Jack’s theft of union dues, a number of union officers, all full-time faculty, colluded to prevent the student reporters from having access to the full facts. Union Vice President and Grievance Chair Jennifer “Jaeney” Hoene wrote in emails to other union officials: “I am inclined to question John [Knowlton, newspaper faculty advisor] about this as well as to question his role contacting Mark [Millbauer] asking for cooperation.” Via email, UF Board member Hank Galmish urged other Board members to encourage Knowlton to guide students toward other stories, including one about “a move to rescind English-101 prerequisites.” Hoene also suggests sending Knowlton a list of story ideas “more relevant” than the embezzlement, which she deems an “internal faculty union matter.” Hoene then emailed Phil Jack directly, encouraging him not to grant an interview to the student reporter. Union Negotiator Will Scott claimed in emails that “this is not a story,” and initially suggested that the union refuse to cooperate with Knowlton and the student reporters. He later suggested that they grant the interview, but refuse to disclose the name of the faculty member involved or the dollar amounts of the embezzlement and restitution. Eventually, at the suggestion of AFT Washington President Sandra Schroeder, Millbauer wrote up a statement approved by the UF Board downplaying the severity of the embezzlement. On May 21, 2012, The Current did publish a brief story entitled, “Faculty Member Admits to Embezzlement of Staff Funds.”

Several adjunct faculty objected to the UF Board’s handling of Jack’s embezzlement. At the forefront have been Dr. Keith Hoeller and Kathryn Re, who have accused the union of numerous violations of its own constitution, as well as violations of the NEA and AFT state and national constitutions and bylaws. Of note is a requirement, stated in the local’s constitution, that an annual audit must be submitted to the AFT along with a “signed certification by the affiliate’s principal officer that [the audit has been] published and made available to the members.” When Re, a union member, requested a copy of audits from the past several years, Millbauer told her that she was not entitled to have access to those documents, which covered the time during which Jack embezzled over $9,000 from members’ dues. In addition to the internal violations, Hoeller and Re have pushed for a police investigation into Phil Jack, leading Millbauer to tell the police department that Hoeller and Re had “no authority” to speak to the police about Jack or the theft.

Both Hoeller and Re believe that they have been the victims of retaliation, harassment, intimidation, and bullying. In June 2012, Hoeller received an email from Dean Joyce Hammer, alerting him that Will Scott, Chair of the Humanities Division, had filed a complaint against him for refusing to participate in periodic student evaluations. Hoeller stated that he has never refused to participate in any evaluation process. Hoeller and other adjuncts have repeatedly opposed a proposal in the Humanities Division they feel is an unfair labor practice and a threat to their academic freedom because it would use the evaluation process to threaten the job security of adjuncts who speak up against the full-time, tenured faculty. These adjuncts have repeatedly appealed to both the union and the administration to stop Scott’s attempts to implement this proposed policy prior to its passage by the division and approval by the Vice President, as required by the union contract. Dean Hammer amended her previous statement, saying that it was not Will Scott who had filed the complaint, but rather the Humanities Division as a whole. The union contract states that a complaint must be filed by an individual; Hoeller believes that Dean Hammer changed the name of who filed the complaint because Will Scott is the union’s Chief Negotiator, and Scott’s filing the complaint would have posed a conflict of interest.

In July of 2012, Hoeller received an email from Sandy Johanson, a full-time faculty member in his department. Johanson and Ty Barnes, the other full-time philosophy faculty member, wished to meet with Hoeller to discuss “several concerns we have regarding your job performance as an adjunct faculty member at GRCC. In particular [the portion of the faculty contract stating that] ‘the instructor will communicate and work collaboratively with the Division, department lead, and Division Chair.’” In August, soon after Hoeller and nine other adjuncts filed a complaint with the Green River Board of Trustees, Johanson and Barnes filed a formal complaint against Hoeller. Hoeller believes that the complaint was filed in retaliation for his opposition to the proposed changes in the evaluation policy for adjuncts, and it was intended to stifle any dissent.

Nevertheless, Hoeller won the GRCC Distinguished Faculty Award in June of 2012. He is the first and only adjunct in the college’s history to have won this award. The next month, his union informed him that they would not help him clear his name of the allegations levied by members of the GRCC Humanities Division. According to Keith Hoeller, Kathryn Re has received malicious emails from full-time faculty members since she began advocating on behalf of adjuncts. In one email, a full time faculty member stated that they had “lost respect” for Re. These same faculty members are responsible for Re’s evaluations. Another full-timer refers to Re and Hoeller and other adjuncts as “a bunch of clowns.”

On January 31, 2013, Kathryn Re received a response to her January 28, 2013 letters to the NEA and AFT requesting her local be taken over by the national unions. Both presidents refused her request, stating that the allegations do not rise to the level of seriousness required for a trusteeship to be put in place. It appears that both presidents have ignored the one hundred pages of documentation of violations and will not be taking any steps to correct them. The response from AFT President Randi Weingarten urged Re to “work with your local leaders in pursuing these grievances under the collective bargaining agreement,” a suggestion that seems near impossible given the local leadership’s demonstrated animosity toward Re and Hoeller and other adjunct faculty who have spoken out.

Representing three adjuncts, Re filed two grievances with the college, both of which were denied by Green River Community College President Eileen Ely. Both grievances involved alleged violations of the contractual rights of adjuncts by full-time faculty who served as both Division Chairs and union officers. The United Faculty refused her request to take the two grievances to arbitration.

Re and Hoeller believe the problems stem from the decision by all three teachers’ unions (NEA AFT, and AAUP) to place the adjunct faculty, who have no job security, into the same bargaining units as the full-time faculty, who are protected by lifetime tenure, and who serve as their de facto supervisors, interviewing, hiring, evaluating, assigning courses, and rehiring (or not) the adjuncts. The unions deny the tenured faculty are supervisors of the adjuncts and ignore the many conflicts of interest that exist between them. Hoeller is well-known for his criticism of the two-track system in academe that he believes sets up a “separate but unequal” system between the tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty. While unions, including the NEA and AFT K-12, try to keep supervisors out of the bargaining units, the higher ed unions have insisted on placing the adjuncts into the same unions, without taking any actions to mitigate the conflicts of interest.

Popular Categories

Find curated and hard to find texts, AUD t-shirts, stickers and more.

Choose whatever subscription fits your needs, receive our publications and other benefits.

Connect with like minded reformers, stay up to date on our supporters and events.