Academic Affairs | Unionization Frequently Asked Questions

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FAQ Last updated 1/27/2012

Am I eligible to vote?

What do I do if I don't receive a mail ballot from the NLRB?

Do other universities in the area have adjuncts represented by SEIU?

Is this part of a national phenomenon of unions trying to organize faculty?

Did the University provide my home address to the union (union organizers are coming to my home)? If so, why?

Can the University now make or promise any changes to my pay, benefits or other terms and conditions of my employment before the election?

What workplace issues would be covered under a collective bargaining agreement?

I want to make my viewpoint known – can I do that.

Why does the stipulation agreement allow for such a broad voting group?

I only teach one course – Do I really need to vote?

How will the vote take place?

Can I share with other adjunct faculty my opinions regarding unionization?

Who is Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500 seeking to represent?

What is the University’s position towards this issue?

Should SEIU Local 500 become the representative of the adjunct faculty, will I have to join the union as a condition of continued employment with the University?

What are the expected dues if the union petition prevails?

I had no idea SEIU Local 500 planned to file a petition – will I still be able to vote?

When/how will the vote take place?

What will happen if SEIU Local 500 prevails in an election and then some adjunct faculty conclude that they do not want to be represented by the union?

Am I eligible to vote? 

To be eligible to vote, AU adjunct faculty must:

  • Have a three-year appointment as of December 2, 2011, which includes:
    • Adjunct faculty with three-year appointments beginning prior to and including December 2, 2011 and ending anytime after that date; and
    • Adjunct faculty with concurrent Full-Time term contracts
    OR
  • Have taught at least a one-credit bearing class or lesson during the Fall 2011 semester
    OR
  • Have taught a one-credit bearing class or lesson in at least two semesters since January 1, 2010.

Individuals ineligible to vote include lab assistants, graduate assistants, teaching assistants, research assistants, clinical fellows, teaching fellows, administrators with teaching responsibilities, degree-seeking AU students with adjunct appointments, and full-time staff who are not compensated for adjunct teaching. (See the Stipulated Election Agreement for the complete list of exclusions.)

What do I do if I don't receive a mail ballot from the NLRB?

Ballots were mailed to your home addresses from the NLRB on January 19. If you do not receive a ballot byJanuary 27 and are in the eligible voting pool please notify your dean, associate dean or department chair or director. You also should contact the NLRB directly by calling its Washington D.C. resident office at 202-208-3000 to request that a ballot be sent to your home address.

Do other universities in the area have adjuncts represented by SEIU?

Local 500 of the Service Employees union represents primarily food service workers, building and maintenance workers, “paraeducators,” bus operators, and Head Start workers. George Washington University and Montgomery College are the only universities in the area at which adjunct faculty are represented by the SEIU.

Is this part of a national phenomenon of unions trying to organize faculty?

No - according to the Chronicle of Higher Education less than 20% of adjunct faculty nationwide is unionized.

As a whole, unionization is a declining trend. In fact, according to a January 2011 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics – the recordkeeping arm of the United States Department of Labor - during 2010 the percentage of private sector workers in unions fell to 6.9 percent, down from 7.2 percent. This decline represented a 12.3 percent decline since 2009 and a 20.1 percent decline since 1983.

Did the University provide my home address to the union (union organizers are coming to my home)? If so, why?

The University did not provide your home addresses to the union. Under federal labor laws, the University was required to provide the NLRB with the names and addresses of all adjunct faculty who are eligible to vote in the upcoming election. The NLRB turns that list over to the union. We regret any intrusion this may cause you as unsolicited visits to your home from union organizers are in no way condoned by the University.

Can the University now make or promise any changes to my pay, benefits or other terms and conditions of my employment before the election?

No. Under federal labor law, the University is precluded from making or promising material changes once the petition for an election is filed and until after the election. Moreover, if Local 500 of the Service Employees union wins the election the University can make no such changes until after the contract is ratified, which, based upon current experiences in the university setting, could take some time.

What workplace issues would be covered under a collective bargaining agreement?

The same type of issues which the Faculty Senate began reviewing last year before learning of the petition to organize the University’s adjunct faculty. For example, salary, payment for an initial appointment, merit review, and reappointment processes would all be topics addressed during collective bargaining.

I want to make my viewpoint known – can I do that.

Yes please do so. In the spirit of a free and open debate which we hope to cultivate, the University encourages you speak to your colleagues regarding this important topic.

Why does the stipulation agreement allow for such a broad voting group?

The University believes that it would be unfair to deprive adjunct faculty who could be impacted by unionization from being able to vote and having their voice be heard. Therefore, we worked with the National Labor Relations Board and the Union to reach an agreement which allowed for as broad a voting group as possible. If you are in the group described in the stipulation agreement it is important that you exercise your right to vote.

I only teach one course – Do I really need to vote?

By law, every employee in the bargaining unit has the right to vote or not to vote. However, it is very important that all eligible employees vote their preference. Voting is each employee’s individual opportunity to speak out on an issue that will affect their future. Further, a simple majority of votes cast determines the election results. For example, if out of 1000 employees, only 100 vote and 51 of those voted for the union, all 1000 employees would be represented by the union.

How will the vote take place?

The election will be conducted entirely by mail ballot by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an agency of the federal government. On January 19, 2012 the NLRB will send ballots out to the list of eligible voters submitted by the University. Ballots will be mailed, through the U.S. Postal Service, to home addresses on file at the University. The ballot will arrive with a postage-paid return envelope addressed to the NLRB, along with another “inner” envelope into which voters should place the ballot. The ballot will ask if you wish to be represented by Local 500 of the Service Employees union. All you have to do is check the “No” or “Yes” box, place the ballot in the inner envelope, sign the outside of the return envelope, and mail it so that it is returned to the NLRB by February 16, 2012 at 10:00 am when the ballots will be counted. Your vote will be invalidated if you do not sign the outside return envelope.

The ballots are secret - do not sign the ballot. The NLRB requires eligible voters to sign only the outside of the return envelope for the sole purpose of checking each name against the eligibility list. Please remember to follow the NLRB’s instructions. Of course, if your ballot is late, your vote will not be counted.

Can I share with other adjunct faculty my opinions regarding unionization?

Yes, please do so. The University’s primary goal during this process will be to foster a vigorous exchange that allows our adjunct faculty to make a free and informed choice regarding whether they want union representation. You sharing your opinions and viewpoints with your colleagues will be vital towards achieving this goal.

Who is Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500 seeking to represent?

SEIU Local 500 is seeking to represent all adjunct faculty employed at the university who teach at least one credit earning class or lesson or lab. This includes adjunct faculty for all schools and colleges, including the Washington College of Law and the programs at the Tenley campus (Washington Semester, Mentorship, Graduate Gateway).

What is the University’s position towards this issue?

While we have concerns regarding whether unionization would be in the best interest of our adjunct faculty members, the University, and the students we serve, we steadfastly believe in employees’ right to choose whether or not they wish to have union representation. To that end, our primary goal during this process will be to foster a vigorous exchange that allows our adjunct faculty to make a free and informed choice.

Should SEIU Local 500 become the representative of the adjunct faculty, will I have to join the union as a condition of continued employment with the University?

This would be a subject of the collective bargaining process. We know that almost all SEIU contracts, of which Local 500 is a part, have a union security clause that requires union membership as a condition of continued employment. A union security clause would most likely preclude adjunct faculty from teaching if they are not members of the union. The SEIU Local 500 could also compel all of its members to follow the bylaws of its affiliated entities. These rules often include fines and sanctions for non-payment of union assessments or for refusal to engage in picketing, strikes or other job actions.

What are the expected dues if the union petition prevails?

We cannot make a definite statement on this issue because it is a union determination. However, we can say that, according to the union’s financial reports filed with the US Department of Labor this year, SEIU Local 500 regularly charges $26 per paycheck in dues. In addition, it typically charges new members a one-time initiation fee. The dues, according to SEIU Local 500, will be used in part to organize new members of the union, and not just for the needs of the adjunct faculty at American University.

I had no idea SEIU Local 500 planned to file a petition – will I still be able to vote?

Yes, because it is a majority of adjunct faculty members who actually vote that determines whether or not the adjunct faculty will be represented by the union. For instance, if only 100 adjunct faculty members vote, and 51 vote “yes” for the union, all current and future adjunct faculty, including those who did not vote, will be represented by the union.

When/how will the vote take place?

Those details still need to be worked out with the National Labor Relations Board. We are seeking a voting process with ballots sent through the US Postal Service. We believe such a process will provide adjunct faculty with convenience and accessibility; however this decision will be determined by the NLRB. In the coming weeks, we will be sure to keep you apprised regarding all the logistical details surrounding the election.

What will happen if SEIU Local 500 prevails in an election and then some adjunct faculty conclude that they do not want to be represented by the union?

This election cannot be "undone" easily if those in the unit change their minds. In some situations, employees can file what is called a "decertification petition."


The decertification of a union is a very complicated process that occurs rarely. It is thus important that adjunct faculty consider the issues now and vote so that their voices are heard during the representation election. The University urges adjunct faculty to learn about Local 500, ask questions, and frequently visit the website which the University is establishing regarding this topic, so that you can make an educated choice regarding whether to vote for the union when the election takes place.

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