A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld the legitimacy of a vote by adjuncts at George Washington University to unionize.
In a brief ruling, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously rejected the university's attempt to raise questions about who was permitted and not permitted to vote in the election. The court found that the university did not raise these issues earlier in the legal process, when they could have been considered, and that the university could not do so now.
Part-time faculty members voted last year -- 341 to 331 -- to be represented by the Service Employees International Union, and the National Labor Relations Board certified the election as valid. The university has said that the election was so close that disputes over another 30 people potentially eligible to vote need to be resolved. While the university has characterized the issue as one of "disenfranchisement" of employees, the union has accused GW of dragging its feet on negotiating.
While the appeals court did not consider the substance of the university's objections, the NLRB previously found it to be "without merit."
"GW's case was shameless stalling and the court has now affirmed that the university had no legal justification whatsoever," said Sean P. Carr, a spokesman for the SEIU.
Union officials have argued that collective bargaining will improve the wages and benefits of the some 1,200 part-time faculty members who work at the university. But GW officials have said that a union is not necessary and could create needless bureaucracy. A spokeswoman for the university said Wednesday evening that officials were "disappointed in the decision because we would prefer that all affected faculty members have had a full and fair opportunity to cast ballots in the election." She added that the university was still studying the decision so it would be "premature" to discuss what might happen next.
While court rulings have made it extremely difficult for unions to organize tenure-track faculty members at private institutions, adjuncts are not covered by those rulings and have attracted increased union attention -- and some notable contract breakthroughs.