Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Faced with demands by adjunct faculty to unionize, a number of Catholic colleges and universities have argued that they are not subject to NLRB jurisdiction, claiming an exemption as a "religious employer." In a piece I wrote for Pepperdine's symposium on The Competing Claims of Law and Religions a couple of years ago, I suggested that, in the case of adjunct faculty, NLRB oversight was not likely to create the kind of entanglement that exemption was concerned with. I also expressed concern about Catholic institutions of higher education attempting to use the exemption as a shield allowing them to tread adjuncts in ways inconsistent with Catholic social teachings.
Faced with efforts by adjunct faculty to unionize, the University of St. Thomas took a different approach. University President Julie Sullivan, expressed sympathy for the position of adjuncts, but explained why she thought unionization was not the best way to promote the interests of adjuncts and the university. Her arguments were apparently persuasive: The NLRB just certified the results of the election that was recently held: 136 opposed and 84 in favor of unionization.
In the immediate aftermath of the the certification, President Sullivan sent an e-mail to all adjunct faculty outlining her plans to address the top-level adjunct faculty priorities identified over the past year. These include creation of a new Adjunct Faculty Task Force who will work toward better integrating adjunct faculty into the univesity and providing them with a variety of participation options, providing adjunct representation on the faculty Senate, develop proposals for increasing adjunct faculty salaries and working to provide ways for adjunct faculty to participate in the university's benefit programs.
Whether all of this comes to fruition remains to be seen, but it is an enormous step in the right direction.