The National Labor Relations Board has cleared the way for Seattle University adjuncts and contingent faculty members to vote to form a union — although the decision is likely to be appealed.
Some adjuncts are seeking to form a union because of pay inequity and benefits issues. About half of Seattle University’s 700 faculty members are adjuncts.
The NLRB is expected to set a vote for some time in May. However, Seattle University officials say they expect to appeal the decision; the appeal deadline is May 1.
Adjuncts, sometimes called contingent faculty, are instructors who are not eligible for tenure at colleges and universities and sometimes restricted to part-time work. They’re usually paid at a lower rate than their tenured counterparts — sometimes significantly so — and receive lesser benefits and little job security.
Seattle University argued that it was exempt from NLRB jurisdiction because it is a religiously-operated institution. An earlier Supreme Court case found that the NLRB, the federal agency that safeguards employees’ rights to organize, could infringe on a school’s First Amendment rights if it were to have jurisdiction over a school.
Seattle University also argued that it should be exempt because full-time adjuncts should be classified as managers, because the employees who want to unionize do not represent a “sufficient community of interest” and because the proposed union did not include faulty in the College of Nursing and School of Law.
Ronald Hooks, regional director of the NLRB in Seattle, rejected all of those arguments.
Among other findings, Hooks wrote that Seattle University “lacks substantial religious character” because it receives no funding from the Catholic Church or Society of Jesus, that only a minority of its students are Catholic and its faculty are subject to no religious requirements.
A similar issue is playing out at Pacific Lutheran University, where adjuncts voted in September whether to join SEIU Local 925 — the same union that Seattle University adjuncts want to join. Before the votes were counted, the university appealed the election to the NLRB, also arguing that the federal agency does not have jurisdiction over PLU because it is a religious university.
The NLRB’s Washington, D.C. office impounded the PLU ballots. In February, it invited the filing of amicus briefs, and those were due March 28, said Donna Gibbs, vice-president for marketing and communications at PLU.
On its website, Seattle University notes that a number of Catholic associations have joined legal proceedings challenging NLRB jurisdiction over Catholic universities and colleges, including the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities