From McJob to McAdemic: Labor activism and unrest as economy tanks #bced #yteubc

by Stephen Petrina on September 7, 2013

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The walkout by service workers in the US on August 29 marked a number of efforts over the past year to organize and make a statement on cost of living ground lost amidst inflation and a tanking economy. Economic reports in Canada and the US for August merely indicate the long trend toward part-time McJobs as youth are more and more often finding that their competition is their grandmothers or seniors unable to make it without additional income. Requests by the workers is an increase in the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25/hr to $15/hr and the right to unionize without interference from employers. Obama democrats are proposing a modest increase to $9/hr.

Like the McJob trend, the large balance of college and university jobs are now part-time and low wage. Many with the McAdemic job, defined by low pay and limited prospects, work just above minimum wage when it’s all said and done. Although among the most exploited of part-time workers given their expertise and education debt-load, adjunct, contingent, or sessional faculty members in Canada and the US retain an element of autonomy for their job. Whether with a modicum of a wage per course or a piecemeal per student wage for online instructors, many by and large take home a pay that hovers just above minimum wage after hours in are calculated. Unlike the basic McJob, which has a definitive beginning and end to the workday, the academic job has no limits to the amount of time expended to prepare, teach, counsel, and assess. And given that, like for most with a McJob, there is a dignity to a McAdemic job and most put in long hours (e.g., 10x contact hours required) that knowingly reduce their wages to something just above the minimum.

In BC, the minimum wage is merely $10.25, which today after exchange and purchasing power parity is about $7.25/hr USD. At UBC, the step 1 salary for contingent or sessional faculty is $5,970 per 3 credit course (about $4,305 USD after exchange and PPP). Comparisons of McAdemic job with McJob and of stratification within the two sectors are not exaggerated, as Postdoctoral Fellow Brian Haman wrote in “What Contingent Faculty Can Learn From Fast-Food Workers:”

 As universities and departments downsize and the numbers of Ph.D. graduates outpace available jobs, many adjuncts accept grossly underpaid positions with long working hours and virtually no benefits with the expectation that a foot in the door will somehow lead to the promised land of a tenure-track position. Supply and demand dictates otherwise and the vast battalions of well-paid academic administrators are more than happy to continue to exploit such naïve and misguided expectations in the name of efficiency…. Clearly, something must change. It seems, therefore, sensible, entirely feasible, and just to stand in solidarity with fast-food workers, many of whom earn as much as adjuncts. Their struggles are our struggles. Moreover, their lessons can be our lessons. The efficacy and consequences of collective action are unambiguous.