BY PETER N. KIRSTEIN
Five years ago my university, Saint Xavier, prevented the counting of adjunct ballots for the purpose of organizing collectively with the Illinois Education Association (I.E.A.). I testified before the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago. I was under subpoena and it was very intense. In the room were the president, provost and vice president of mission. Yet I answered questions with the intent to demonstrate that the religiosity of the university should not obstruct the right of part-time faculty to organise. Since there is already on campus a union of full-time faculty, it makes sense to allow other units of the professoriate to exercise the same right.
Years of endless appeals and efforts to prevent adjunct unionization were dealt a significant blow by the N.L.R.B. in a 3-1 decision on August 23. They ruled in favour of the adjuncts, based on their landmark Pacific Lutheran case, with the exception of those who teach in a Department of Religious Studies. Their decision unfortunately excludes part-time adjunct faculty that have a specific religious function whom are not covered by N.L.R.B. jurisdiction. This would include faculty who do not teach religious courses of the charism, the religious orientation of an institution, and even those who offer courses on atheism. Georgetown and Loyola Chicago have allowed unionisation. The decision does not preclude an ethical and pro-labour catholic university from allowing its faculty to organise. Yet the totality of its ruling is a significant expansion of the right to organise. Adjuncts at private faith-based institutions of higher learning have the right to form a union. Click on the supplied link of N.L.R. B. website, then click on 8/23/16 Board Decision. https://www.nlrb.gov/case/13-RC-022025
Of course this decision, such as the recent N.L.R.B. ruling that graduate assistants can organise at Columbia University, can be appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Also a more conservative N.L.R.B. could, looking forward, simply reverse its prior rulings. The Supreme Court may also on appeal possibly accept a case encompassing labour rights of faculty as they did in the execrable N.L.R.B. v Yeshiva (1980).