Northeastern's Refusal to Pay Severance to Displaced Adjunct Violated Contract with SEIU Local 509

March 14, 2019

A landmark collective bargaining agreement negotiated by SEIU Local 509 for contingent faculty required Northeastern University to pay severance to adjuncts displaced by new full-time faculty. Attorney Patrick Bryant persuaded a neutral arbitrator that Northeastern violated the agreement when it refused to pay these severance fees for Spring 2018 courses previously taught by an adjunct. The arbitrator rejected the University's excuse that it was not required to pay the fees because the full-time faculty member who displaced the adjunct was hired in Fall 2017 rather than Spring 2018.

The collective bargaining agreement generally entitles adjuncts to be offered courses they have taught successfully over a certain amount of time. Such adjuncts basically earn a property interest in their courses, which is referred to as "good faith consideration." At the same time, the agreement allows Northeastern to assign courses to different faculty in very narrow situations. For instance, when Northeastern decides to hire full-time faculty to teach courses previously taught by adjuncts, Northeastern is required to offer different courses to the displaced adjuncts with good faith consideration or to pay them severance equivalence to 75 percent of the pay for each course. Local 509 and adjuncts supported the hiring of full-time faculty, as it provides adjuncts with opportunities for enhanced economic stability and security.

In Spring 2017, Northeastern hired a new faculty member to teach German language courses previously taught by a longstanding adjunct. The adjunct had good faith consideration to teach two courses offered Fall 2017 that were taught by the new full-time faculty hire. Northeastern duly paid the adjunct 75 percent of payment for both of those courses. This severance payment extinguished the adjunct's right to be offered those courses in the future.

For Spring 2018, Northeastern scheduled two courses (different than ones offered Fall 2017) for which the same adjunct had good faith consideration and were taught by the same new full-time faculty hire. This time, Northeastern refused to pay the 75 percent severance for these two courses, arguing that the adjunct was not displaced by a new full-time faculty hire, because the faculty member was hired in Fall 2017.

The arbitrator rejected this argument and ruled that the University violated its contract with SEIU Local 509.

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