By Peter Schmidt

As part-time instructors at colleges seek to improve their working conditions through unionization, they often find that the people standing in the way of their efforts are not administrators but fellow faculty members, several union organizers and labor experts observed at a conference held here this week.

Tenure-track professors can be resistant to contract provisions that erode their power over faculty appointments or let contingent faculty members assume a bigger role in the shared governance of their institution.

The contingent faculty members that such labor-organizing efforts seek to help can themselves be deeply divided over the merits of unionization or what they hope to gain from it, according to several speakers at the annual conference of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions.

“I wish I could tell you that everything is rosy and perfect,” but “I would be kidding if I suggested there were not tensions,” said Phil Kugler, a special assistant for organizing to Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Karen Thompson, a staff representative for the Rutgers University faculty union, arose in the audience of a panel discussion on Monday and spoke of finding it difficult to coax open support for unionization out of contingent faculty members who “enjoy passing” as tenured and do not want their lack of tenure and poor working conditions known to their colleagues and their students.

“Prestige is part of their pay,” said Ms. Thompson, whose union is affiliated with the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers.


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