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If one obscure college professor dies, does it make any difference?
If you’re Margaret Mary Vojtko, yes. In life, she was just another adjunct teacher at Duquesne University being grossly underpaid and maltreated by the school. Her story would be unknown – except for Daniel Kovalik.
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A lawyer with the United Steelworkers (USW), Daniel knew Margaret Mary through his union’s drive to help adjunct teachers organize for better pay and treatment. He wrote up her story, telling how Duquesne had paid her so little that she spiraled into abject poverty. Then they coldly booted her – no severance, no good byes. Impoverished, abandoned, scared, and stressed to the limit, her heart exploded shortly afterwards.
Yet, in death Margaret Mary is more alive than ever! Kovalik’s poignant piece swept through the internet, striking a chord with adjunct teachers everywhere. They see that their own low-wage position could put them in the same downward spiral it did for her. So Margaret Mary’s story is being repeated all across the country, energizing organizing campaigns to empower and lift up these hard-hit university teachers.
In a case of beautiful irony, one of their strongest campaigns is taking place at Duquesne. Adjuncts there have already voted to join the Steelworkers union, but the domineering masters of this Catholic school are resorting to devious, legalistic ploys to deny simple justice for their faculty. Bizarrely, they’ve even demanded a religious exemption from our labor laws, claiming that unionization would interfere with their teaching of Catholic values!
USW’s president, Leo Gerard, has appealed that claim. Not to the courts, but to the Pope! And to make his case that Pope Francis should speak out on this issue of social justice, Gerard told him the story of Margaret Mary Vojtko. So in death, Margaret Mary even met the Pope.
“Death of an adjunct,” www.post-gazette.com, September 18, 2014.
“Letter from United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard to Pope Francis,” December 19, 2013.
“Fighting For Union Recognition,” United Steelworkers At Work, Volume 9/1, Winter 2014.