BY PETER N. KIRSTEIN
In 2011, Saint Xavier University adjunct faculty voted to organize under the banner of the Illinois Education Association. President Christine Wiseman challenged the right of adjunct faculty at the Sisters of Mercy Catholic institution to unionize, in claiming a religious exemption under the First Amendment. Federal labour law, they argued, should not apply to a religious institution. Since 1979, there has been a union of full-time faculty. Through numerous appeals of Regional Director National Labor Relations Board decisions, SXU was able to delay a vote tally for five years. I testified under subpoena on behalf of the adjuncts at one of the early hearings in the NLRB regional Chicago office.
After the NLRB finally ruled that adjuncts could organize in accordance with the landmark 2014 decision, Pacific Lutheran Univ. & SEIU, Local 925, 361 N.L.R.B. No. 157, that significantly expanded the organizing rights of adjunct faculty, the five-year old ballots were counted on September 20. The tally was 29-25 in favour of a union. Two other Catholic universities, Duquesne University and Manhattan College received similar mandates from the NLRB, with the latter also impounding adjunct union votes for five years.
Duquesne University president Charles Dougherty has played hardball with vulnerable adjunct faculty that are organizing under the Steelworkers and uses questionable tactics to intimidate and frighten his most vulnerable faculty. He is a “role model” in identifying why adjuncts pursue collective bargaining!
I would prefer that Saint Xavier finally emulate the Georgetown University and Loyola University Chicago response to adjunct-union strivings, and adopt a more progressive approach to social justice. The former displayed insouciance over adjunct organizing efforts, and the latter, while opposing an adjunct union with a video campaign, did not deploy legal appeals to delay or suppress a vote. Their adjuncts are unionized. These Jesuit universities are less opposed to the rights of labour, and adhere to a more liberal interpretation of Catholic Social Teaching.
I teach at Saint Xavier and am president of its AAUP chapter. However, these opinions are individually expressed.