Marin County’s Dominican University of California faculty vote to unionize

After years of low salaries and low morale, according to full-time faculty at Dominican University of California, the group of professors has voted to unionize and will join the California Federation of Teachers.

“Following our successful election on April 11, we’re now beginning to gear up to negotiate our first contract,” Veronica Fruiht, assistant professor of psychology, School of Liberal Arts and Education, told the Business Journal in a Wednesday email statement. “Faculty will work this summer and fall to prepare for bargaining. We hope to have our first contract negotiated sometime in the 22-23 academic year.”

Fruiht, who helped spearhead the effort toward unionization, said full-time faculty members at the San Rafael-based university haven’t felt heard or supported by the university’s administration.

“Most faculty have not received any salary increases or cost of living adjustments for many years, and those who have received raises have only gotten them to keep their salaries in alignment with increase(s) in the California state exempt minimum wage despite the fact that most hold (the highest level) degrees and are respected experts in their fields,” Fruiht stated.

For the current academic year, salaries range between $62,400 and $131,537 for full-time faculty working nine months a year, and between $66,000 to $174,044 for those working year-round, according to the university. Salaries for the 2022-2023 academic year reflect one change, raising the maximum salary for full-time faculty working nine months a year from $131,537 to $133,000, according to the university.

Fruiht said insufficient salaries also have impacted hiring efforts.

“We struggle to recruit and retain diverse junior faculty because of our salaries, and faculty see the urgent need to try to solve this problem,” she said.

Nicola Pitchford, president of Dominican University, said in a statement that the university is committed to, and has an “exceptional” record, of success when it comes to the students, “so we know that ensuring equitable and livable salaries for our highly skilled, dedicated faculty is also a crucial part of being true to that mission.”

Pitchford noted the decision to unionize is an “urgent challenge.”

“At the same time, we can't pass along our rising costs to our students and their families — so it's been hard to make significant progress, especially when our budget has been further stretched by the impacts of COVID,” she said.

This won’t be the first time Dominican has seen a union form on its campus. In 2015, adjunct faculty joined the Service Employees International Union Local 1021.

“Because Dominican's Board of Trustees and I share fully our faculty members' goal of increasing compensation and building a working environment that will be supportive and durable for the long term — and because we recognize that unionization is one proven avenue for getting everyone around the table to develop realistic solutions to workplace inequities and can be an effective driver of social mobility,” Pitchford wrote, “we respect and understand the desire of the majority of faculty to be represented by CFT.”

Fruiht said the full-time faculty members are looking forward to joining together in unionization.

“It has been a long road to get here, but it has been really fulfilling work,” she said. “I’ve been grateful for the support of CFT, as well as our administration, who have been incredibly respectful of faculty and our decision to union throughout this entire process.”

Jeff Freitas, president of the California Federation of Teachers, didn’t respond to a request for comment before publication, but told the Marin Independent Journal that CFT is “eager to negotiate a contract with the administration that recognizes the contributions the faculty make every day to the students and the mission of the university.”

This story has been updated to include salary information for the university’s full-time faculty.

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