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Full-time, salaried faculty at BU seek union elections

Students filed across the BU College of Communication campus at Boston University.
Students filed across the BU College of Communication campus at Boston University. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)

Full-time and salaried lecturers and instructors at Boston University have petitioned federal labor officials to let them have union elections, putting them on a path to become the third group of full-time faculty members to unionize at a Greater Boston university.

The lecturers and instructors filed their petition with the National Labor Relations Board late Friday, according to a statement issued Saturday.

They want to join Faculty Forward, a division of Service Employees International Union Local 509, which now has more than 3,500 Boston-area educators, the statement said. The move is part of a nationwide push to increase workplace rights for nontenured track faculty, who play a growing role in higher education.

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“It’s so exciting,” Somy Kim, 38, a lecturer in the writing program at the College of Arts and Sciences, said Saturday. “I think it’s really important for a lot of us who feel . . . unstable without a real contract.”

If the unionization vote prevails, more than 275 salaried lecturers and instructors who are not on the tenure track at BU would get union representation, the news release said.

Nontenure track faculty teach about two-thirds of all classes at the university, according to SEIU Local 509. Of those professors, 59 percent are full time or receive a salary, the local union said.

BU spokesman Colin Riley said Saturday that the school plans to present its “full position” on the request during a hearing before the National Labor Relations Board set for March 14.

“While the University does not comment on pending legal matters, Boston University believes our academic community is best served by maintaining direct lines of communication with our faculty rather than through an outside entity,” Riley said in an e-mail.

Kim, who has been at BU for three years, said some lecturers are given appointment letters informing them whether they will be permitted to teach for additional terms of one, two, or three years.

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Many colleagues, Kim said, want the security of a contract that would provide better pay, codify benefits, and set the criteria for promotions.

“We want whatever our conditions are in writing,” Kim said. “Stability is going to be big thing . . . It’s important that I know that I can settle here with my children.”

The organization effort started about eight months ago. The Boston office of the National Labor Relations Board will organize the union vote, the news release said.

Bill Marx, a senior lecturer in the writing program at the College of Arts and Sciences, said his colleagues are on the “front lines.”

“This action comes down to recognizing the value of the job we do in educating our students, improving the conditions under which we work, and the active role we must play in the decision-making process,” Marx said in a prepared statement.

Full-time teaching staff at Tufts and Lesley universities voted separately to form unions last year. The Tufts group has about 100 members while there are nearly 200 at Lesley. Each are conducting contract talks, according to SEIU Local 509.

The unionization efforts among full-time faculty members around Boston follows a wave of new unions established by adjunct and part-time professors with help from SEIU Local 509.

In recent years, part-time faculty have unionized their ranks at Tufts, Bentley, Brandeis, Boston, Lesley, and Northeastern universities.

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“Over the course of the past few years we have seen thousands of part- and full-time faculty come together to address the crisis of higher education in the Greater Boston area,” said Jason Stephany, spokesman for SEIU Local 509.

Part-time professors at Tufts signed their first contract in 2014, followed by adjunct faculty at Lesley, who ratified their first employment agreement last year.

In January, adjunct faculty members at Northeastern reached a tentative contract settlement with campus administrators that would provide double-digit raises for most instructors over the next three years.

“Their teaching conditions are students’ learning conditions,” Stephany said. “If faculty are going to fulfill the critical education mission of their universities, faculty must have a voice and role in the decisions that affect their students.”


Laura Krantz of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.