Local NLRB Says Seattle Adjuncts May Count Ballots

August 19, 2015

Adjuncts at Seattle University may count their impounded union election ballots, a local National Labor Relations Board office said in a decision released Tuesday. The university is planning an appeal. The NLRB office's decision was issued several months after the national board sent a string of cases involving adjunct union bids at religiously affiliated colleges back to their respective regional offices for re-evaluation. The re-evaluation was based on a new framework for determining the NLRB’s jurisdiction over religious colleges and universities established by the board in its December decision regarding Pacific Lutheran University. In that case, the board decided that based on a number of factors, the adjuncts who wished to form a union could do so because their jobs were not religious in nature. Over all, the decision asserted that just because a college or university has a religious affiliation doesn’t mean non-tenure-track faculty can’t form unions.

Local boards have ruled similarly in recent months in cases involving adjuncts at Duquesne University and St. Xavier University, which, like Seattle, are Roman Catholic. SEIU and pro-union adjuncts took the ruling as good news. In a statement, Anne Hepfer, an instructor of English, said she expected the national board to reject the request for review that the university signaled it was planning to file. “Why is our administration continuing to waste precious tuition dollars in an attempt to impede my colleagues and me from forming a union?” she asked.

Via email, Dean Forbes, a university spokesman, said Seattle wasn’t surprised by the decision and intends to file a request for review with the national board -- which could be the first step in a court fight over NLRB jurisdiction over the university. “The petition is a necessary procedural step that preserves the university’s options to seek court review of the newly established criteria by a divided NLRB for determining whether it has jurisdiction over religiously affiliated colleges and universities,” Forbes said. “The issue is not whether employees may unionize. Rather, the issue is whether the government should have influence or control over the religious mission of Seattle University.”

The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities had no immediate comment. William 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 it’s “probable that at least one of the at-issue religiously affiliated colleges will challenge the NLRB’s assertion of jurisdiction in court” if the national board eventually rules in favor the adjunct unions.

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