Recent news on faculty unionization efforts

A good proportion of non-tenure track faculty at Santa Clara University are trying to organize a unionization vote, with considerable resistance from the university. Last week at the Faculty Senate Council,. university counsel Bridget Colbert and Senior Associate Provost for Research and Faculty Affairs Amy Shachter for the first time to my knowledge came out explicitly and said the university was opposed to unionization. All kinds of rhetoric flew, including the trotting out and repeating in a mindless way their slogan “we are better working together.”  One slide had a list of 6 or 7 universities they claimed had “gone through the NLRB” but it turned out maybe only one actually concerned a faculty unionization vote. The duo claimed that the administration in 2018 had not “been aware” that there were any issues surrounding adjunct faculty justifying a unionization drive, and that once President Engh became aware of the issues he swiftly changed procedures, working conditions, and compensation. Several faculty pointed out that “take” was baloney (to use an old-fashioned metaphor).

The main issue right now seems to be that the union organizing committee thinks it has 30%+ signed union cards, but does not want to go to the NLRB to request a unionization vote because the university is sending many signals that it would use all the legal tactics available to then grind that process to a halt, including possibly asking the NLRB to revisit the Yeshiva and Pacific Lutheran precedents that brought religious-oriented institutions like SCU under the same standard as secular private universities, and also established that faculty were not prima facie managers just because the university said they were.

Other relevant stuff….

Recently, Nov 2018:

Full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members at Northeastern University have withdrawn a petition to form a union. The withdrawal came after Northeastern told the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that full-time, non-tenure-track faculty are managers, and therefore cannot form a union. Vaso Lykourinou, an associate teaching professor of chemistry and chemical biology, expressed concern that the current NLRB would not be favorable to faculty. “Going into the [NLRB] and having a hearing with the current climate in that board, we wouldn’t want that to become non-tenured faculty are managers, so therefore, that creates a precedent that they cannot unionize,” said Lykourino.

And this in March 2019:

In a unanimous opinion, a federal appeals court just rejected the National Labor Relations Board’s “subgroup majority status rule” for determining when college and university faculty members are to be deemed managers and therefore excluded from coverage under the National Labor Relations Act (University of Southern California v. NLRB). The rule, first articulated in the Board’s 2014 Pacific Lutheran decision, required that a faculty subgroup (e.g. nontenure faculty) seeking to organize must have majority control of any committee that made managerial decisions before the Board would find that subgroup to be managers. By rejecting the Board’s “subgroup majority status rule,” yesterday’s D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision dispensed with the Board’s reliance on “crude headcounts” and held that the proper test is for the Board to assess whether the faculty members at issue are “structurally included within a collegial faculty body to which the university has delegated managerial authority.” Colleges and universities should familiarize themselves with this decision and its potential impact on faculty bargaining units.

And should Jesuit university faculty participate in the Examen, possibly a cynical ploy to gather evidence demonstrating that faculty are part of the religious mission of university and thus exempt from unionization?

Another part of the ruling said that just because a college is religious doesn’t mean that its faculty members can’t unionize. The NLRB said that a religious college would need to show that “it holds out the petitioned-for faculty members as performing a religious function. This requires a showing by the college or university that it holds out those faculty as performing a specific role in creating or maintaining the university’s religious educational environment.” The NLRB then cited facts about Pacific Lutheran that suggest its adjuncts (those who were seeking unionization there) aren’t performing religious work, and thus are entitled to unionization. That part of the ruling will now be applied to several other pending disputes over efforts to unionize adjuncts at religious colleges. And it may be difficult for those colleges to continue to block unionization.

This is a nice article about effects of unionization and current trends:

In short, the unionization of adjunct faculty is among the most important recent developments shaping higher education. The increasing reliance on low-paid, part-time instructors has eroded the availability of tenure-track positions at many institutions.Moreover, the same desire for cost savings that has motivated colleges to rely heavily on adjunct faculty has led, at many institutions, to worsening working conditions for tenure-track faculty in the form of growing teaching loads, a lack of administrative support, and diminishing funds for research. Given these developments, it is possible that adjunct and tenure-track faculty may come together more often to unionize together, as happened recently at our university, Notre Dame de Namur.

And votes and eligibility can be hotly contested. At Northwestern it seems for example the organizing committee did not want to include some business school adjunct faculty:

The updated count, now 242 against and 231 in favor of unionization, is a win for the University, which strongly opposed the initial exclusion from the tally of faculty whose eligibility to vote was disputed. Provost Jonathan Holloway said in a news release that NU is “grateful” that the NLRB ensured “every voice was heard.” “We appreciate that our faculty participated in the process and acknowledge how close the election was in the end,” he said. The announcement ends a bitter dispute just over a year after NTE faculty filed a complaint with the NLRB accusing the University of unfair labor practices. Northwestern administrators had refused to bargain with the SEIU since federal officials certified the labor union as a representative of the non-tenured faculty in May 2017, arguing that the 25 votes were unreasonably excluded. The faculty and administration had disagreed over which faculty members were eligible to vote. Last month, the agency overturned its previous decision using a 2002 administrative rule, determining that the election’s rules “unambiguously” included 18 of the 25 employees, and that the remaining seven “should be included in the unit on community-of-interest grounds.”

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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