Adjunct Professors at Miami Dade College, America's Largest Undergrad College, Are Unionizing

Miami Dade College
Miami Dade College Photo by Phillip Pessar / Flickr
College professors' livelihoods have gotten increasingly precarious over the last few decades. Universities keep cutting nonscience programs and offering fewer professorships while hiring more teachers as "adjuncts" who make just a few thousand dollars per class, per semester. A recent report from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) found that 70 percent of Florida public-university professors are now adjuncts.

In response to their grim economic outlooks, adjuncts across the country have tried to unionize to collectively bargain for better working conditions. On Wednesday, adjunct professors at Miami Dade College, the school with the largest undergraduate enrollment in America, announced they have voted to unionize and join the SEIU. The new bargaining unit will include as many as 2,800 workers.

“Our fight for a union at Miami Dade College isn’t just about our wages or the lack of respect we face every day; it’s about standing up as educators at the largest college in the nation and saying enough is enough,” Ximena Barrientos, an adjunct professor of earth sciences at Miami Dade College, said Wednesday in a news release. (Barrientos has a Ph.D. from Harvard, but has previously told reporters she teaches three to four classes per semester and often makes less than $20,000 per year.) “We’re tired of watching our students go to food banks because tuition keeps rising. I’m tired of worrying about bill collectors when I should be worried about lesson plans. By standing up with one voice, we can demand the investment we need for our students and colleagues throughout Florida.”

According to the unionizing workers, even an adjunct professor teaching the maximum course load at MDC  cannot get by: The best-paid adjuncts there make just $22,000 per year. And MDC has an even larger share of adjuncts than the average Florida university: According to the union organizers, 81 percent of Miami Dade College professors are part-time adjuncts not on the tenure track.
click to enlarge Miami Dade College - PHOTO BY PHILLIP PESSAR / FLICKR
Miami Dade College
Photo by Phillip Pessar / Flickr
The union drive at MDC has been somewhat testy. In February, the college received national scorn after Vice Provost Iliana Castillo-Frick suggested adjuncts struggling to cover medical costs for their children should sign up for Medicaid instead of hassling the college or unionizing. School spokespeople also previously claimed that the adjuncts "do not need the union" and that "the college already provides them the best benefits in the state.”

Across Florida, Hillsborough Community College, Broward College, University of South Florida, and Seminole State College have also voted to join SEIU's Florida Public Services Union (FPSU) Faculty Forward division. According to the SEIU's recent report, the average adjunct in Florida makes just $17,000 per year and typically earns just $1,900 per course.

"Their annual pay is almost impossible to live on," the report states. "This often forces them to teach at multiple colleges or work outside education entirely. Just to make ends meet, adjuncts have to teach an excessive number of courses. And it’s virtually impossible to earn as much as their peers or support a family teaching. Traditionally employed professors typically teach ten courses a year."

A spokesman for Miami Dade College, Juan Mendieta, complimented the professors while noting the results reflected only a 14-vote margin.

"Their voice was heard, and we’d like to express our continuous support to our adjunct faculty as they transition into a new chapter with the SEIU," he wrote in an email to New Times. "The union (SEIU) received 587 favorable votes. The remaining votes (573) were cast against unionization, a difference of 14 votes."

Mendieta added that "their good work never goes unnoticed."
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.