Strike averted: Howard University, faculty union reach tentative deal on bargaining

The two sides have forged a three-year agreement that must still be ratified as adjuncts and non-tenure-track employees seek better pay.

The union representing adjunct and non-tenure-track faculty and Howard University leaders reached a tentative deal to continue talks on improving compensation and job security, preventing a strike from occurring on Wednesday.

The two sides – the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) Local 500 chapter that is representing 350 impacted lecturers and Howard’s administration – cemented terms on a three-year collective bargaining agreement, however, it still must be ratified by Howard President Wayne Frederick and union members in the next few weeks.

“We successfully doubled down on our promise to bargain in good faith with the SEIU and deliver a fair labor contract for faculty, the university and our community,” Anthony Wutoh, Provost and Chief Academic Officer, said in a statement. “The union agreed to call off its three-day strike and ensure that students continue to receive coursework as planned or make arrangements for any learning loss caused by the planned strike.”

Although the strike was averted, the messy situation again thrust Howard into the national spotlight just months after problems in student housing surfaced and a monthlong protest ensued. Faculty and students had launched another rally on campus last week over instructor pay and threatened to walk out if demands weren’t met. Among the asks were more competitive wages for adjuncts that align with R1 and R2 research institutions similar to Howard, more opportunities for faculty to add courses (they can only teach two per semester now) and the elimination of the seven-year rule for non-tenure faculty who can be removed from their positions without just cause, according to the union.

During initial talks on Monday, the union said Howard had made some concessions particularly around pay for non-tenure employees, with a proposed 8% raise though that would still fall short of other peer institutions. But it offered no movement on adjunct pay and would not budge on the seven-year rule, citing that it could create undue financial hardship for the university.

On Wednesday, it seemed to soften its stance a bit.

“We have stood firm in our commitment to respect the bargaining process that our union-faculty are entitled to, and it is in the spirit of that commitment that our leaders remained in hours-long negotiations until an agreement was reached,” Wutoh said. “Our contingent faculty are a respected part of our institution. We share the collective goal of educating our students and today, because of this agreement and efforts to bargain in good faith on both sides, we will achieve that goal uninterrupted.”

Union leader Larry Alcoff said on Monday that faculty have been trying to get Howard to the bargaining table for several years but faced what it called unfair labor practices as the university “refused to make proposals, walking out of bargaining and engaging in what’s called surface bargaining where no meaningful proposals are made until today.”

Adjunct pay in higher education institutions is being scrutinized more closely by unions such as SEIU. Adjuncts at Howard can make between $3,100 and $5,000 per course, but even on the high end, that would be just over $20,000 per academic year with no benefits. Another institution in the Washington, DC, area facing similar protests, American University, offers similar pay for its adjuncts. That has forced professors to teach courses and travel to several institutions to earn enough money to stay in the area. Howard officials on Monday acknowledged the cost of living facing those professors.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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