Adjunct faculty members at the Maryland Institute College of Art voted to unionize this week, creating the first union representing part-time faculty members at any four-year college in the state.
The MICA adjuncts began organizing in March amid dissatisfaction with what some lecturers called shaky job security and insufficient wages. Mailed-in ballots were tallied at the board's Baltimore office Tuesday by a representative of the National Labor Relations Board, with witnesses from MICA's administration and the part-time faculty committee observing the process.
The vote was 163 adjuncts in favor and 75 opposed. The NLRB requires more than 50 percent for recognition. The adjuncts are to be represented by SEIU Local 500, which is based in Gaithersburg.
MICA has about 340 faculty members, 190 of whom work part-time.
"If we can work together, I think it's a lot easier for a collective voice to be heard, instead of a group of disconnected and disenfranchised individuals," said Joshua Smith, co-chair of the MICA part-time faculty committee. "Finding out what works best for the part-time faculty at MICA will be an interesting challenge."
Smith said the top concerns were job security — lecturers sometimes were unsure whether they would be teaching the same class next semester — narrowing the disparity in pay between part-time faculty and tenured professors, and developing formal job expectations for employees to meet.
MICA appeared to accept the results of the vote.
"We look forward to working with the union that will be representing our part-time faculty and are confident that our adjuncts will continue to join us in making their highest priority the academic and campus experiences of our students," spokeswoman Jessica Weglein Goldstein said in a statement.
As the number of tenured and tenure-track positions declines in Maryland and across the nation, many universities have come to rely heavily on adjunct faculty for instruction. Increasingly, too, adjunct faculty members are joining labor unions.
Smith said he hoped the union at MICA would "inspire" part-time faculty at other colleges to unionize.
Adjunct faculty members at Montgomery College formed a union in 2008. It is the only other college in Maryland with a union for part-time faculty. Adjuncts at Anne Arundel Community College have formed a Coalition of Academic Labor chapter in hopes of gaining collective-bargaining rights.
The Montgomery College adjunct union is federally recognized and has collective-bargaining power from the state. Federal law allows states to decide whether employees at public colleges should have collective-bargaining rights, and Maryland has taken a piecemeal approach to extending those rights.
Legislation introduced this year by Democratic state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh of Baltimore would have extended collective-bargaining rights to all of the state's 19,000 community college employees. It was not successful.
"The idea of adjuncts unionizing is still pretty new," said Christopher Honey, a spokesman for SEIU Local 500.
The vote awaits formal certification by the NLRB, a process that takes about a week. After certification, union members would vote on members for a bargaining unit.
Smith said MICA administrators did not threaten any employees while the employees were working to organize the union, but they "did take every opportunity to let us know what their feelings about the union were."
"Obviously when it comes down to money and jobs it becomes an emotional issue," he said.
An earlier version of this article gave incorrect information about Montgomery College part-time faculty's collective bargaining rights from the state. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.