General Questions

What is a union?

A union allows working people, including college and university faculty, to collectively make vital improvements to their workplace. Unions make it easier for workers to advocate for themselves and to articulate their perspectives to both employers and the broader community. Many unions—including ours—enable employees to bargain collectively with their employer to determine their terms of employment at legally mandated negotiating sessions that produce legally binding agreements. Individual instructors are rarely able to address working conditions that have a deleterious effect on them and their students, but joining together in collective bargaining allows them to harness the strength in numbers for their areas of concern.


Why did Duke faculty form a union?

Duke non-regular rank faculty voted overwhelmingly to form a union because we wanted to improve our working conditions and make sure teaching and scholarship are the priority at Duke. While we have always loved teaching and mentoring Duke students, when we began meeting and comparing notes, we realized that many problems were common across departments. For example, some faculty had been on semester-to-semester or nine-month contracts for a decade or more. This uncertainty was needless and had real repercussions when faculty attempted to apply for mortgages or make long-term plans about their professional and personal lives. Our contract has created more equitable and predictable employment conditions for non-tenure track faculty, meaning that faculty can focus their time and energy on students, as opposed to finding the next gig. We believe strongly that this enhances the equality of our students’ educational experiences. Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.   

Who is in charge of our union? 

While we as members make all of the decisions for our own union, we have access to the historical knowledge of local and regional union representatives who are conversant and experienced in the challenges we face.  Our current contract was ratified by members, and we have elected officers from among the membership who oversee the implementation of the contract. We all shape our union by attending general meetings, serving on committees, electing officers, participating in surveys, and coming to bargaining sessions.

What is SEIU? 

SEIU is the Service Employees International Union, which is the largest and fastest growing union in the country with 2 million members in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. SEIU represents 120,000 members in public and private higher education in the United States, including more than 54,000 graduate workers and faculty at more than 60 campuses, including the University of Chicago, Georgetown, Tufts, Boston University, Northeastern University, and George Washington University.

As non-tenure track faculty, we have decided that forming a union with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is the best way for contingent faculty here at Duke to receive the respect, recognition and security we deserve. While we are self-governing, our affiliation with the SEIU gives us access to resources—such as seasoned negotiators, and experienced labor lawyers—that we could not provide on our own.

Are there news articles about faculty unionizing?

Yes! We will have a link on our website to a list of articles that may be illuminating. This one from the American Prospect is a good start: