The Stand

In major win, NLRB says PLU contingent faculty can unionize

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ACT-adjuncts-contingentsThe following is from Adjuncts and Contingents Together Washington, a project of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 925:


SEATTLE (Dec. 22, 2014) — In a groundbreaking decision with national implications, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled on Friday that contingent faculty at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) can form a union with SEIU Local 925.

The ruling comes months after the university’s administration cited Lutheran religious affiliation under the 1979 Supreme Court case Catholic Bishop as a reason to impound union election ballots and thwart faculty efforts to unionize. The administration also claimed that full-time contingent faculty were managerial employees under the 1980 Supreme Court decision Yeshiva and could not unionize. The Board agreed with PLU contingent faculty that they can organize, and in deciding the questions of religious exemption and managerial status, the Board established new tests for examining the role of faculty at universities.

Under the new tests, faculty must carry out a religious function to be denied the right to collective bargaining, not merely teach at a religiously-affiliated college; and, must exercise effective managerial control to be considered management employees.

“While our journey to form a union began over two years ago, my adjunct and contingent faculty colleagues had been working to address our working conditions long before that,” said Dr. Jane Harty, Lecturer in Music at Pacific Lutheran University. “With the National Labor Relations Board ruling, I hope our administration will finally choose to talk to us about our working conditions rather than continuing to spend tens of thousands of education dollars pursuing an anti-union legal strategy. We are ready to work with them to help PLU be successful in fulfilling its own remarkable mission.”

Importantly, the Board cites the “corporatization” of higher education which has dramatically changed how our colleges and universities are run. Dominic CodyKramers, Instructor of Performing Arts at Seattle University said, “Universities and colleges have increasingly employed full-time contingent and part-time faculty to do the teaching, while relying on growing ranks of highly paid administrators to manage the affairs of our schools like corporate entities. It defies common sense for universities to then turn around and claim that faculty, let alone contingent faculty, are management, and use that to deny us our right to unionize as the employees that we actually are.”

The NLRB decision has far-reaching implications for religiously affiliated colleges and universities nationwide that have tried to keep faculty from unionizing, as well as the college and universities that seek to portray their faculty as management. The new tests carefully crafted by the Board will provide clearer guidance in the future, and will pave the way for the impounded union ballots to be counted at the nearly identical case at Seattle University (SU).

“I’m thrilled that the Board has rejected all the objections by the PLU administration, which are virtually identical to the objections raised by the SU administration,” said Dr. Louisa Edgerly, Instructor of Communications and Journalism at Seattle University. “My colleagues and I look forward to finally getting to count the ballots we have already cast in our own union election.”

Adjunct and contingent faculty face tenuous employment and under-compensation, while being expected to meet the same standards and teach the same courses – to the same students – as tenured and tenure-track faculty. With inconsistent benefits, inadequate resources, and little representation in faculty governance, contingent faculty face significant hurdles in fulfilling their responsibility to provide a quality education to students.

“Civic engagement and public service are central tenets of Jesuit and Lutheran theologies,” said Steve Lansing, Ph.D, Former Administrator of Region 1 Office of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and PLU Alumnus. “For religiously affiliated schools to expend more resources to silence the voices of students and employees only stands against who we are as members of the faith community.”

SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry said, “This decision is a victory for Pacific Lutheran University faculty, students and for the democratic process at colleges and universities all across the country because it will allow faculty to have a stronger voice to re-focus resources on student learning, On behalf of SEIU members across the country, we are thankful for the courageous faculty at PLU who put so much on the line and waited so long to have a voice in their profession.”

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