A ruling by the National Labor Relations Board could clear the way for votes to be counted in a 2-year-old union case at Seattle University.
Two years after adjunct faculty at Seattle University cast votes on whether to form a union, a decision by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) appears to have cleared the way for the votes to be counted.
A three-person panel of the NLRB issued the ruling Tuesday. The Jesuit university has argued that because it is a religious institution, its adjunct faculty (which it calls “contingent”) are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act, and are not eligible to be part of a bargaining unit.
The university argued that, in an earlier decision, the regional office of the NLRB misapplied the findings from another recent union case to Seattle University’s situation.
But in Tuesday’s ruling, the NLRB wrote that only nontenured faculty in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and the School of Theology and Ministry should be excluded from those contingent faculty who are eligible to be in a union.
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Adjuncts are faculty members who work on shorter-term contracts, often for lesser pay and benefits. About half of all faculty at Seattle U. are adjuncts.
The ruling sends the case back to the regional NLRB director, who has previously ruled in favor of counting the votes. Service Employees International Union 925, the union that’s worked to organize faculty there, predicted the votes would be counted in about two weeks.
“Our count is strong — we believe we will win the vote easily,” said Benedict Stork, a contingent faculty member who teaches film studies.
Stork joined Seattle U. two years ago, after the votes had been cast, but said he got involved in the unionization efforts, in part, because he believes the university hires so many of its faculty part time to avoid paying higher salaries and offering benefits.
He said he thinks the university has fought against the vote count for so long because it, too, believes the unionization effort will win.
Seattle University did not have an immediate response, other than to note that the regional director must make a decision on the vote counting. Previously, the university said it had done a great deal to improve working conditions for contingent faculty, including long-term teaching contracts and better pay.
Stork said he has not seen any improvements in salary or the length of teaching contracts since he started.
He said that he expected both the university and the union would send a delegation to observe the vote-counting, and that the university would likely challenge some of the votes, “and we’ll have a contingent to do the same.”