NLRB Remands Decisions on 3 Catholic Colleges

February 5, 2015

The National Labor Relations Board issued three decisions Wednesday regarding religious colleges where faculty members have attempted to form unions and where administrators have objected, saying that their spiritual affiliation puts them outside of the board’s jurisdiction. In each decision -- regarding Seattle University, Saint Xavier University and Manhattan College, all of which are Roman Catholic -- the board remanded the case back to the NLRB regional directors to take appropriate action in light of the recent NLRB decision regarding Pacific Lutheran University.

In that case -- which many called a major win for unions and a blow to longstanding legal precedents challenging the right of tenure-line faculty members at private institutions and faculty members generally at religious institutions to freely form unions -- the board said adjuncts at Pacific Lutheran could form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union. The board based its decision on its opinion that adjuncts at Pacific Lutheran didn't perform specific religious functions that might cause them to fall outside its jurisdiction and on the opinion that the faculty members lacked the managerial duties that might prevent them from forming a union.

Louisa Edgerly, an adjunct instructor of communications at Seattle, said the ruling appeared to be good news that brought the would-be union “one step closer” to finally being able to be count the union election votes that have been impounded as the university appeals a local NLRB decision in the adjuncts’ favor. William A. Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College of the City University of New York, said the orders appear to be largely procedural, but that it was “important to recognize that the NLRB could have chosen to decide the merits of the issues in each case based on record already before it, as it did in Pacific Lutheran. Instead, it has sent each case back to the regional director for further processing, which might result in additional briefing by the parties or the reopening of the record for the presentation of supplemental evidence and argument based on the standards set forth in Pacific Lutheran.”

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