The National Labor Relations Board has ordered George Washington University to recognize a union of adjunct faculty members and to start negotiating a contract.
The NLRB found that the university was too late in raising issues over employees who the institution argues should have been entitled to vote on union representation. The vote in favor of unionization, when adjusted by an administrative law judge who reviewed contested ballots, was 341 to 331.
Although the NLRB certified the election as valid in May, the university in June said it would not negotiate with the union -- which is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union -- because of the dispute over who had been allowed to vote. That move set up the NLRB's latest ruling, in which it ordered George Washington to start negotiating.
In its ruling, the NLRB said that the university lacked the grounds to challenge the election. The university "does not offer to adduce at a hearing any newly discovered and previously unavailable evidence," the ruling said. As a result, the university "has not raised any representation issue." In addition, the labor board found that the university's claim -- even setting aside the issues of timing -- was "without merit" because the election unit had never been changed. Allowing employers to change election units for union votes after votes take place "would be to invite abuse," the ruling said.
On Thursday, the university asked a federal appeals court to hear an appeal in the case. In a statement published on its Web site, George Washington said that "the university continues to believe that the election was flawed because the number of potential voters who were disenfranchised was determinative of the results of the election."
Adjunct faculty members -- whose numbers are growing and who for years have been complaining about poor treatment by the colleges that employee them -- have increasingly been turning to unionization. In several recent cases -- most notably at the New School -- adjunct have made significant gains on job security and wages. The NLRB has largely shut down organizing drives for full-time faculty members and graduate students at private colleges and universities, so adjuncts are the only part of the teaching force that can unionize at those institutions.
As at other institutions, the adjunct union at GW has focused on salary and benefits issues in seeking support, while the university has argued that a union would charge dues and would push for strict rules that would limit George Washington's ability to hire adjuncts.