Demonstrators surround boardroom with “fair contract now” signs on July 28. Courtesy of PSUFA

PSUFA prepared to take collective action

Adjunct faculty continue bargaining for fair contract

Members and supporters of the Portland State University Faculty Association (PSUFA) marched to the Bogue Boardroom in the Karl Miller Center on Friday, July 28, from 12–12:30 p.m. They picketed with signs demanding, “FAIR CONTRACT NOW” before their bargaining session with PSU administration, where they continued negotiating for a Cost of Living Increase (COLA) for adjunct faculty.


In the July 28 bargaining session, PSUFA responded to PSU’s offer of an 8% COLA—which would cost the university $3.3 million—and continued their fight for a 10% COLA, health insurance, retirement benefits and more. PSUFA has stated they are ready to take collective action if their minimum demands remain unmet.


“PSU’s maximum demands do not meet adjunct’s minimum demands,” said Mayra Vasquez-Garcia—a representative for the American Federation of Teachers—at the march. “We’re here to let them know that it’s just not enough, especially when adjunct faculty teach almost 40% of the classes. $3.3 million is just not enough. [We are looking for] a thoughtful response—a response that actually takes into consideration the things that adjunct faculty have said at the bargaining table and puts that forward in writing.” 


Adjunct Professor Kjerstin Johnson explained how the July 28 march was a final push to demonstrate PSUFA’s power and support. 


“PSU—like many universities—is powered by adjunct teaching,” Johnson said. “We are hoping to get pay equity with full-time faculty, so we wanted to gather up our folks and show [the PSU administration] what this means to us.”


According to the PSUFA bargaining recap blog, the PSU administration was visibly rattled by PSUFA’s demonstration.


“The fight is not over, and we adjuncts will keep demanding a fair contract until we get one—sending the message to Administration loud and clear that we are worth more and that our students deserve more,” the blog stated. “The PSUFA Bargaining Team’s parting message to [the] administration on [July 28] was simple: we are willing to continue negotiating, but the total allocation must be significantly larger—our bargaining unit will not accept the current allocation.” 


PSUFA will continue bargaining for a fair contract, with the next bargaining tentatively scheduled for Aug. 18. Bargaining sessions are open to the public, and PSUFA urges supporters to attend these meetings to show their support for equal pay for part-time faculty. 


According to the blog, PSU denied a 10% COLA for adjuncts because it is in a $20 million financial hole, stating it only has $3.3 million to allocate to part-time faculty. 


The PSUFA’s current proposal would cost the university roughly $8 million over two years—increasing the adjunct’s share of the total university budget from 3.1% to 4.3%. With over 1,000 adjuncts who teach roughly 40% of PSU’s student credit hours, the blog explained that PSU’s offer of an 8% increase is not enough. 


“The budget crisis the university has found itself in should not mean perpetuating our part-time poverty,” the blog stated. “Adjuncts did not create this crisis, and its solution should not be laid at the feet of PSU’s already underpaid faculty.”


When Portland State Vanguard reached out for a comment, PSU referred to their statement quoted in our previous article. “The Office of Academic Affairs continues to work together with PSUFA to find solutions,” PSU stated. “Bargaining is ongoing.”


According to a proposal comparison table provided by PSUFA, PSU’s offer of an 8% increase puts adjuncts at an increase of merely 0.08% compared to what they were making in 2019, when adjusted for inflation. 


The proposals PSU made during the July 19 bargaining session do not include any compensation for the work adjuncts do outside the adjunct teaching purview, any commitment from the university to establish a sick leave bank, any compensation for adjunct research and professional development nor any compensation for adjuncts who’s classes are canceled. 


Vasiliki Touhouliotis—PSUFA’s chair of membership and adjunct professor for the Honors College—said the instability and insecurity of her job at PSU has affected her teaching. For three of the four terms she has worked at PSU, Touhouliotis said her classes were on the verge of being canceled. 


“A week or two before the terms began, I would have no certainty that I would be teaching,” Touhouliotis said. “It’s detrimental to education to have a teaching force that doesn’t know, from term to term, if they will even be teaching. There’s so much insecurity around our jobs. Obviously, you want to have instructors who are not worried about what they are going to do or how they are going to house themselves. A significant portion of our bargaining unit struggles with basic things like food and housing security[…] The basic needs we have as human beings need to be secured for us to be good teachers, and PSU is just not providing that.” 


PSUFA is scheduling more bargaining sessions. Touhouliotis said a poll of their members indicated a willingness to participate in collective action if the PSU administration does not meet their minimum demands. 


“The results of the poll unambiguously demonstrated a desire to unite in some form of collective action if necessary for the contract we deserve,” the blog stated. 


Touhouliotis clarified that university’s reliance on cheap, adjunct labor is a national phenomenon. Yet, she explained that this widespread phenomenon does not make the situation at PSU any less scandalous. 


“What’s happening at PSU is a scandal,” Touhouliotis said. “The university is not paying adjuncts fairly or equally, and they’re relying on the unpaid labor of adjuncts to do a lot of the essential work of teaching[…] They’re not investing in students and faculty in the way that they need to be, especially in this critical moment of crisis that the university is facing[…] Adjuncts are a deep part of this institution. Many of us have been here for many years, and we deserve to be paid equally.”

Demonstrators surround boardroom with “fair contract now” signs on July 28. Courtesy of PSUFA