The Stand

Seattle U., St. Martin’s faculty unite to fight for their rights

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The following is from SEIU Local 925:

(Sept. 29, 2017) — Contingent, tenured, and tenure-line faculty at Seattle University and Saint Martin’s University announced this week that they will unite and build a strong organization outside the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) process to fight for improvements like fair pay and better working conditions.

“While we have attempted to follow labor law in good faith, it is apparent that this is a route that our Catholic institutions refuse to respect,” said Ben Stork, Film Studies Instructor at Seattle University. “As the actions of our employers have consistently shown, the existing system is ripe for abuse and religiously affiliated universities seem only too happy to take advantage of this uneven playing field. Perhaps moving outside the NLRB process will provide these universities with a fresh opportunity to do the right thing and truly follow their stated mission to care for the whole person by meeting us at the bargaining table. Regardless, we will continue to fight for our rights as workers while advocating for improved learning conditions for our students.”

Seattle University contingent faculty won their union election in September 2016 (after waiting over two years for their votes to be counted). Saint Martin’s University contingent faculty won their union election in June 2016, and tenured and tenure-line faculty won theirs outside of the NLRB in April 2017. Administrators at both institutions have abused faculty rights under federal law and carried on a sustained legal attack on the faculty’s right to organize and pursue collective bargaining.

“Despite 18 months of our campaign at Saint Martin’s, our employer has failed to meet us in good faith under the auspices of the NLRB,” said Jennifer Jamison, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Saint Martin’s University. “At every turn they’ve worked to thwart our rights under federal labor law. That ends today, but we’re just getting started in the continued fight for better working conditions.”

Higher education unions working outside the NLRB process are taking off and winning big. Last month, the SEIU-affiliated Duke Graduate Workers Union won thousands of dollars in concessions from the University outside of collective bargaining, on top of other gains.

“The NLRB cannot do what our University knows it should do: meet us at the bargaining table, and in so doing, honor the best traditions of our faith and our University,” added Jamison.

While Catholic educational institutions strive to promote social justice, the everyday reality is that many Catholic colleges and universities have moved dramatically toward corporatization and away from investing in educators and affordable, accessible college education. While student tuition and fees are $41,265 annually at Seattle University, the majority of its professors are forced to work part-time for low pay. Meanwhile, at Saint Martin’s University, the percentage of expenses devoted to instruction has declined to only 34%.

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