Explained: The contract dispute between NYU and its adjunct faculty union

ACT-UAW Local 7902, the union representing adjunct workers at NYU, has begun voting to authorize a strike if negotiations for a new contract with the university fail.


Samson Tu

The NYU adjunct union, ACT-UAW Local 7902, began a strike authorization vote on Monday, Sept. 26, as contract negotiations with the university near their deadline. (Samson Tu for WSN)

Abby Wilson, News Editor

The union representing NYU adjunct faculty began voting to authorize a strike on Monday, Sept. 26. If passed, the vote will allow adjunct faculty to call a strike if they are unable to reach a new contract with the university by Oct. 31, the end of the current bargaining period.

For its next contract, which will cover the academic years between 2022 and 2026, the union is asking for increased wages, expanded health insurance coverage, stronger job security, flexibility for sabbaticals and other leaves of absence, better retirement benefits, funding for professional development activities, and more access to educational resources, including course texts and technology.

The union, ACT-UAW Local 7902, continues to negotiate for a new contract with the university following an extension of its current contract, which was signed in 2016. The contract was originally scheduled to expire in late August, but has since been extended twice to allow more time for negotiations. Until the union signs a new contract with the university, adjuncts will be given the same pay and benefits as they did during the 2021-22 academic year.

Wages and compensation

While compensation currently varies for adjunct faculty depending on the NYU school they work for and the type of class they teach, the current wage per contact hour for adjuncts teaching group classes is $149.25. The term “contact hour” refers to time spent in a classroom actively teaching. The union estimates that when tasks outside of the classroom, such as planning, grading and meeting with students, are taken into account, each contact hour is equivalent to 4.35 actual hours worked. In its proposals for the new contract, the union is asking for that rate to be increased to $240 per contact hour. The university’s most recent counter-proposal is $158.95.

Union president Zoe Carey emphasized the importance of administration hours, a policy included in the union’s increased compensation proposal. These hours would include compensation per course each week for the time that adjuncts spend outside of the classroom preparing materials and assisting students.

She said that the pandemic has led to students asking for additional assistance from their instructors, including extensions on classwork and emotional support.

“Our faculty have really stepped up and been providing that, but that all comes without compensation,” Carey said. “We’re really asking for structural reform in the contract that recognizes the reality of being an adjunct.”

Health insurance coverage

The union’s current contract with the university says that adjunct faculty members who teach over 84 contact hours per academic year are eligible for health insurance benefits. Local 7902 has proposed making these benefits available for all adjunct workers, but NYU’s latest counter-proposal on Sept. 6 suggested 56 contact hours. (Eligibility requirements differ for faculty teaching courses which involve one-on-one instruction.) 

The union is also calling for more comprehensive benefits from the university for all adjunct workers, with an emphasis on bolstering support for the workers’ dependents, spouses and domestic partners. The current coverage, which is offered through insurance provider UnitedHealthcare, does not provide sufficient support for the families of faculty members, according to Carey.

“There might be decent subsidies if you are an individual who teaches a lot of classes, but the second that you add in any dependents, the cost skyrockets,” she said. “NYU is not really acknowledging that a lot of adjuncts have dependents — partners or children or families that they need to support. We’re trying to fight here for an adjunct’s entire life to be supported, not just minimal health care.”

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Bargaining sessions between NYU’s legal team and the union, in which each party submits proposals and counter-proposals for each demand until an agreement is reached, are held weekly. Members of the union also meet once a week to discuss the progress of negotiations and draft new revisions of their contract.

The union and its members will have the ability to declare a strike if the authorization vote passes with a two-thirds majority. The union has said that they wish to reach an agreement on a new contract without resorting to a strike.

If the union decides to strike, it will first communicate its intent to the university. Classes will be disrupted because adjunct instructors will not work, and picket lines and rallies will be held outside university buildings. According to the union’s website, the strike would be planned for a time that would achieve maximum impact on university operations. The strike will end when union membership votes to ratify an agreement between the union and the university.

The union promises to provide training to its membership on strike protocols beforehand, and has said that it will offer resources like legal services and public support campaigns for members if they face retaliation for striking from their supervisor or department. Striking is protected under federal law when two or more employees from the same workplace take action to protest working conditions.

If an agreement is not reached by the end of October, the current contract will be extended again, the union will decide to go on strike, or adjunct faculty will continue to work without a contract — in which case the university will honor the stipulations of the union’s previous contract by default. If the union decides to extend the bargaining process, adjuncts will not have the ability to go on strike until the end of any further contract extensions.

Local 7902 is one of several unions on campus to have entered contract negotiations with the university in recent years. After a three-week strike in demand of higher wages and better healthcare benefits, GSOC-UAW Local 2110 — the union for NYU’s graduate student workers — won a new contract with the university in June 2021. On Friday, Sept. 23, six NYU unions came together to host a teach-in event, spreading the word about unionization efforts on campus and ongoing negotiations with the university.

Contact Abby Wilson at [email protected].