ASU, UA workers petition schools for thriving wages, better job security
A union of workers at Arizona State University and University of Arizona is petitioning the schools to pay all campus workers at least $25 an hour by 2025.
But for many contingent faculty members, the fight is about more than bigger paychecks.
Contingent faculty members are hired to teach at universities on a short-term contract. Those teaching full time can receive benefits, but they are not eligible for tenure. Nataly Reed is a senior lecturer at UA.
“At the end of the term, we could be non-renewed for any reason,” Reed said. “No reason needs to be given, and there isn’t a grievance process.”
Reed is also a member of United Campus Workers of Arizona, a union made up of both ASU and UA employees. NAU has its own union.
Those non-tenured instructor spots make up the majority of teaching positions at both schools — about 61% at ASU and about 53% at UA.
“[That] is significant, that the people who are working with, especially undergraduate students most closely, are hired on these short-term contracts,” Reed said.
UCW Arizona is circulating three petitions. Two of them ask each university to pay all campus workers a base-wage of $25 an hour (or the salary equivalent) by 2025. The third is focused on fair working conditions like paths to promotion and job security.
That last piece is a growing concern for some ASU instructors.
Layne Gneiting used to teach at ASU’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. He'd worked at the university for about 20 years when just days before his summer class was to begin, it was given to another instructor.
“I’d already corresponded with students,” Gneiting said. “I was flabbergasted.”
The dean told him there were too many sections of that course.
“Which I could understand if that was across the board, but it wasn’t," Gneiting said. “I was the only one that that happened to."
Gneiting complained to the vice provost who contacted the dean about her decision.
“So the dean ended up contacting me that Friday saying ‘Fine, I’m gonna let you keep your two Summer [session] B courses," Gneiting said. “Ten days after that, I got an email saying ‘Hey, thank you for your service, goodbye.’”
He was allowed to teach his two summer courses, but after that, Gneiting no longer had a teaching contract. That was despite having good reviews and a Ph.D. Four of his colleagues, all of whom had good reviews, lost their jobs as well.
Dave Wells teaches in the same unit and is heavily involved in university governance, serving on the university’s senate since 2013.
“ASU has poor policies in terms of making sure that contract faculty, especially those on one-year contracts, are notified if their contracts aren’t going to be renewed," Wells said.
Wells is in his 25th year at ASU. He said in all his time with the school, he’s only seen two instructors in his unit not have their contracts renewed and those were due to behavioral issues or ethical violations.
“We’ve never had anybody performing on a meritorious basis who had not been renewed," Wells said. "To have five people have that happen to them and then not be notified until June 1, after the academic year, was appalling.”
Wells said the policy isn’t written well, but typically, instructors who don’t get renewed are notified by Mar. 1 so they have time to look for another job.
“I helped organize an emergency meeting of our faculty group to put forward a resolution telling the dean that she needed to rescind these actions because they were not consistent with the professional standards of ASU," Wells said.
The resolution passed this summer, but Joanna Grabski, Dean of the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, refused, claiming the unit was overstaffed.
As a result, Wells said class sizes swelled and students weren't as well served. The department also continued to provide overload contracts, paying some instructors more to teach an extra class.
“There are other parts of the university where folks have also been not renewed and also not been treated in a very professional manner," Wells said, 'which is why we’re trying to have the university senate look into trying to revise policies.”
KJZZ requested an interview with Grabski and received an emailed response from ASU spokesperson Chris Fiscus.
“These matters are confidential under the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) and ASU policy so we will not be able to comment,” Fiscus wrote.
Responding to a more general request about the petitions, ASU spokesperson Veronica Sanchez said a decision to not renew is rare and made carefully.
She also pointed to a living wage adjustment that increased minimum salaries for about 50% of full-time, career track faculty. She said they also doubled the number of faculty who will be eligible for multi-year contracts, instead of just one-year contracts.
UA spokesperson Pam Scott said in an email, the school is working to raise pay and is ahead of Tucson’s promise to bump minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.
“We value the hard work of our campus colleagues and recognize there is increased competition for their talents,” Scott wrote. “That is why we chose to align with what Tucson voters approved in the Minimum Wage Act in November 2021.”
UCW Arizona wants at least 1,000 signatures before delivering the wage petitions to the school presidents and ABOR. So far, they’ve gathered more than 800.
“Our working conditions are the students’ learning conditions,” Reed said. “When students are getting less than they deserve, that is definitely a problem for our universities.”
She said they’ll continue to make noise, until their requests are taken seriously.