Adjunct faculty members at Tufts University have voted to unionize with the Service Employees International Union, marking the national union's first victory in a campaign to organize adjuncts across the Boston area and push institutions to improve their working conditions.
The 128-to-57 vote at Tufts, announced after ballots were tallied on Thursday, precedes an October 4 ballot count for adjuncts at Bentley University, who are also voting on whether to unionize with the SEIU as part of the Adjunct Action campaign.
The campaign's strategy is to organize adjuncts across a metropolitan area and put colleges in that region under competitive pressure to improve both pay and working conditions for their own adjuncts. About two-thirds of faculty employees in the Boston region are not on the tenure track, according to data released by the SEIU.
The union has pursued the same strategy in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region. After adjuncts at Georgetown University voted to unionize with the SEIU last May, the union now represents part-time professors at four institutions in that area: Georgetown, George Washington, and American Universities, and Montgomery College.
Other regional campaigns are under way in New Hampshire, Connecticut, and California, where the Adjunct Action project had previously announced a Los Angeles campaign.
Rebecca K. Gibson, a lecturer in the English department at Tufts, said she hoped the new union at her institution would eventually push for longer-term contracts.
"You feel uncertain and not treasured, even though you're giving a lot to your classes," said Ms. Gibson, who has been at Tufts since 1995.
Having multiple adjunct faculties in one regional area represented by the SEIU will strengthen their message, said Joan L. Atlas, an adjunct professor of English and media studies at Bentley.
"This effort is recognizing that there are thousands of adjuncts in the greater Boston area who are all struggling with the same problems, the same working conditions," she said.
Ms. Atlas, who represents adjuncts in Bentley's Faculty Senate, said she expected that enough faculty members there would vote to organize.
Ms. Gibson, at Tufts, said that forming multiple unions in one regional area can help adjunct faculty members find similarities across institutions.
"There are lots of us, people who are dedicated teachers, who love being in the classroom with students," Ms. Gibson said. "That love has, in a way, been taken advantage of."