Local NLRB: Manhattan Adjuncts May Tally Union Vote

August 27, 2015

A regional National Labor Relations Board office said Wednesday that adjuncts at Manhattan College may count their union election votes. The ballots have been impounded since 2011, when the Roman Catholic college objected to NLRB jurisdiction over its campus, citing its religious affiliation. The case was pending before the NLRB in Washington until earlier this year, when the board sent the Manhattan adjunct union case and a handful of others involving would-be adjunct unions at religious colleges back to their regional NLRB offices for re-evaluation based on the recent Pacific Lutheran University decision. In that case, the NLRB said that adjuncts who wanted to form a Service Employees International Union-affiliated collective bargaining unit could do so, because their service to the institution was not sufficiently religious in nature to conflict with the National Labor Relations Act giving workers the right to organize.

The Pacific Lutheran decision included criteria by which other adjunct union bids at religious colleges were to be assessed. In her decision regarding Manhattan, Karen P. Fernbach, director of the NLRB’s regional office in New York, said the college “failed to establish that it holds out the petitioned-for adjunct faculty members as performing a specific role in maintaining” its religious educational environment. For example, she said, the college's faculty application materials say there is “no intention on the part of the [governing] board, the administration or the faculty to impose church affiliation and religious observance as a condition for hiring or admission, to set quotas based on religious affiliation, to require loyalty oaths, attendance at religious services, or courses in Catholic theology."

The proposed Manhattan adjunct union is affiliated with New York State United Teachers, which is in turn affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. Paul E. Dinter, a visiting professor of religious studies, said that as "an educator, a Catholic and a social justice advocate, I have to be pleased that the NLRB decision supports the clear Catholic moral teaching that workers have a right to organize. All of us who love Manhattan College and its social justice mission are heartened by this fair and long-delayed decision.”

In a statement, Brennan O'Donnell, Manhattan's president, said, “We are disappointed, but not surprised, by the ruling. We continue to assert our position that the NLRB does not have the right to define what constitutes the Catholic identity and mission of the college.” Manhattan has the option to appeal the ruling. The college said in a statement that it's considering how it will respond.

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