Adjuncts vote to unionize
Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 23:09
After three months of ballots being impounded, the adjunct faculty in the McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts voted 50 to 9 to unionize Sept. 20.
Ballots were mailed to 88 adjunct faculty members deemed eligible to vote in June, but were impounded for three months because Duquesne pursued an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board on the basis it should be granted religious exemption.
The NLRB ordered the votes to be counted Sept. 15 because deciding Duquesne’s appeal would only be necessary if the Adjuncts Association of the United Steelworkers achieved a majority vote. The count took place at the NLRB’s Pittsburgh office.
United Steelworkers spokesman Jeff Cech said the vote shows the McAnulty adjuncts have “solidarity and the capability to accomplish their goals in obtaining fair working wages and benefits.”
The McAnulty adjunct union would be the first of its kind on a Pittsburgh-based campus, but similar unions have been present at Pennsylvania state universities like Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The USW is working with several other Pittsburgh universities to implement adjunct unions, Cech said.
Robin Sowards, an adjunct English professor who has been active in the union’s formation, said adjuncts make up a strong majority of Duquesne’s professors, 62 percent in the University and 45 to 46 percent in the McAnulty College. Adjuncts are paid $3,000 per class and are permitted to teach a maximum of two courses per semester, although Sowards said that number can fluctuate up to three.
Sowards said adjuncts usually work on a “three-two” model where they will teach three courses in one semester and two in the other of an academic year.
If an adjunct teaches the maximum of classes allowed at Duquesne, they will receive $12,000 per year, which is below the poverty line. To make a living wage, Sowards said some adjuncts teach up to seven classes per semester at two or three different schools.
“It’s time consuming,” Sowards said. “It’s also a disservice to our students because if a student wants to meet with me on Tuesday or Thursday, well I’m not on campus then. I can’t be on campus then, so they don’t get the help they need.”
Sowards said he works 60 to 70 hours a week, seven days a week to earn a living wage.
The administration has until Thursday to issue challenges to the election. After that period, the adjunct union will officially be certified by the NLRB as the exclusive collective bargaining agent of the part-time faculty in McAnulty College, Sowards said.
If Duquesne refuses to bargain with the union, Sowards said it will file a legal action under the National Labor Relations Act for failure to bargain.
Duquesne spokeswoman Bridget Fare said the University will refile its appeal this week.
Sowards said the University’s claim of religious exemption does not apply because it does not propagate religion, it does not ask possible professors about their religion when considered for a position, it does not mention religion in its professors’ contracts and that, while it is “genuinely Catholic,” its academic system is not solely intended to spread its religious beliefs.
“If you have a monastery or something, you can’t organize the monks and say they are being paid poverty wages. Of course they are being paid poverty wages, they aren’t being paid at all, its voluntary poverty, that’s the point of being a monk,” Sowards said. “The point of the act idea was that the government shouldn’t go into an organization like that and have any ability to modify or assist the people there in modifying how the rules go because the rules are set down by a religious order with an exclusive religious purpose.”
But Vice Dean of Villanova School of Law Michael P. Moreland said, in a Sept. 12 congressional testimony, that in the 1979 case of NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, the Supreme Court determined that the NLRB’s jurisdiction does not extend to parochial schools because “there was a significant risk of violation of the First Amendment if NLRB jurisdiction extended to ‘church-operated’ secondary schools, and there was no clear indication of congressional intent in the NLRA to give the NLRB jurisdiction over teachers in church-operated schools.”
Moreland said in his testimony that the NLRB currently follows the position that an institution’s “substantial religious character” should be determined by the Board on a case-by-case basis, but he said those are the types of inquiries the First Amendment attempts to avoid.