Adjunct Win at Religious College

Posted on: June 14th, 2013 by Taylor Fontes No Comments

Inside HigherEd reported this week that the NLRB ruled has ruled that adjuncts at Pacific Lutheran University in Washington University have the right to unionize.  While full-time faculty at private universities are barred from collective bargaining, the ruling generally does not apply to adjuncts, except at some religious institutions.

In the case of Pacific Lutheran, university administrators cited the 1979 Supreme Court case NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago in which the court concluded that religious institutions are not subject to the NLRA.  The regional director for the labor board in Seattle ruled that although the university in question “…comports well with Lutheran tradition” it does not make it a religious institution.  Therefore he ultimately ruled that adjuncts be awarded the right to unionize.

Editorial Comment:

It is heartening to see that the NLRB ruled in favor of the adjuncts at Pacific Lutheran.  Institutions of higher education should not hide behind religion in order to engage in unfair labor practices.

The NLRB officer who made the ruling on behalf of the adjuncts cited many reasons for his decision which demonstrate that although the institution is affiliated with an evangelical Lutheran church and is inspired by Lutheran tradition – social justice being among its touted principles, according to an adjunct lecturer who provided testimony to the NLRB.  But its primary emphasis is academic excellence.

Furthermore it “explicitly de-emphasizes any specific Lutheran dogma, criteria or symbolism in its publications,” as quoted in the article.

The university also tried other tactics, like claiming that many of their adjuncts performed “managerial duties” which should preclude them from unionizing.  Again, they were shut down, as the board found no such evidence.

Labor issues, such as unionization and collective bargaining, are particularly tricky in academe.  Professors vacillate between “labor” and “management” often during their careers, which is a distinct and unique feature of the profession.  Add religion to the mix and you have a church-state component to further complicate the matter.  But what the adjuncts are fighting for is better working conditions and a voice in governance as it concerns their duties as professors, not religious leaders.

To read the full article by Colleen Flaherty go to:

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