Sabrina White, Editor-in-Chief
Brian Messing, Section Editor
Recently the Saint Martin’s University Faculty Union Organizing Committee announced their withdrawal of their petition to unionize at SMU with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). This decision comes after months of negotiations and demonstrations by the unionizing faculty, as well as student supporters and outside community members. In the last academic year, the union sponsored many events, such as the faculty and student walk-out, the petition to strike on campus, student-led discussion panels, and other events to spread their message across campus and the local community.
The Faculty Union Organizing Committee detailed their reasons for the withdrawal in an e-mail sent to all faculty and staff on Sept. 27. The opening lines of the e-mail read as follows:
“Today, in solidarity with our fellow workers at Saint Martin’s University and with the support of thousands of faculty, students and alumni of Catholic institutions across the country, Saint Martin’s contingent faculty are withdrawing our union recognition petition at the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”). At this point it is clear that the Saint Martin’s University administration has no intention to honor the NLRB process and it is also clear to us that this process is ripe for employer abuses.”
The e-mail continued, expressing their disappointment with the administration and stating that they will continue to fight for better terms for contingent faculty on campus.
“In announcing our exit from the NLRB adjudication process we are also declaring that we will no longer stand by waiting for a ruling from on high. Instead we will continue to raise our voices collectively on our campus, demanding fair pay and improved working and learning conditions for our fellow faculty and the students we all serve. Outside the Board process, we will continue to press our University to do what it knows it should do: meet us at the bargaining table and, in so doing, honor the best traditions of the University’s social justice mission.”
The main change of approach regarding unionization is pursuing a union outside the NLRB. Blaine Snow, an contingent faculty member and union leader said, “The NLRB exists to protect and support labor.” Snow went on to discuss his and his colleagues struggles with recent changes to the board.
“Trump’s appointments to the labor board are anti-labor. This led to a vote in favor of banning union jurisdiction in Catholic universities. Upholding the appeal is the reason for SMU and Seattle University pulling from the NLRB.” In other words, Snow said “Rather than waiting for the NLRB to address this issue, we should do it now.”
There is precedent for unions to exist outside of the NLRB. Brian Barnes, Associate Professor of History and Chair of the History Department said that unions existed before the NLRB. Barnes described a union outside the NLRB as functioning with “workplace democracy, where workers do bargaining surveys and elect representatives.”
Barnes noted that there is little difference in operation of this union than with the NLRB.
One difference between a union formed outside the NLRB and a traditional NLRB union is the lack of federal protections for the union and its members. This was mentioned in a quote from Snow, stating that a union outside the NLRB would be “workplace democracy without federal protections.”
Michael Butler, associate professor, said “The Faculty Union Organizing Committee was already discussing the possibility of withdrawing the NLRB petition, as the administration’s primary objection to the faculty unionizing had pertained to the jurisdiction and involvement of the NLRB.”
Snow went on to say that now that the NLRB petition has been withdrawn, “[the administration] now has the opportunity to negotiate in good faith,” as Snow noted that their primary objection to negotiation was subjecting Saint Martin’s to NLRB influence. The most important thing according to Snow was that “there is still a faculty union, it is still affiliated with the SEIU, and there are still members and people who are supportive.”
The Faculty Union Organizing Committee has been asking full-time faculty members along with contingent faculty and instructors to join the SEIU 925 union. This poses some confusion, as under the NLRB v. Yeshiva University Supreme Court ruling from 1980, full-time faculty members cannot unionize on private college and university campuses across the nation.
In response to the e-mail sent from the faculty union representatives, President of Saint Martin’s University, Roy Heynderickx, made the following statements in an e-mail sent Sept. 28. “Yesterday afternoon we received a letter from the Saint Martin’s Faculty Organizing Committee indicating that they are withdrawing their union recognition petition pending before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). We are currently awaiting officially confirmation of this action from the NLRB.”
Heynderickx continued, “In the meantime, the University, including myself and the deans, remain committed to supporting our contingent faculty to address concerns they shared at the recent open forums. This includes working with full-time faculty to create opportunities for contingent faculty to have more of a voice on our campus. In this Year of Community, we will continue to have meaningful conversations, but also move towards inclusive solutions.”
The theme for this academic year is the Year of Community. The University will be focusing on the Benedictine ideals of community and hosting events dedicated to this theme. These events and the theme in general are meant to bring together members of the campus community under shared Benedictine values. Some on the side of the union would argue that negotiations against a union, as well as the under-representation and poor treatment of adjunct and contingent faculty go against the Benedictine and Catholic ideals that the University strives to uphold. This is seen in the email sent out by the Faculty Union Organizing Committee, which references a statement made by Pope Francis.
“It is in this spirit that we seek to re-engage the Saint Martin’s University administration, calling on them to respect and follow the words of Pope Francis when he states: ‘There is no good society without a good union, and there is no good union that is not reborn every day in the peripheries, that does not transform the discarded stones of the economy into its cornerstones.’
Pope Francis, June 28, 2017.”
The Belltower reached out to the NLRB Regional Office in Seattle to gain information on the legal implications of the withdrawal, and whether SMU would have to recognize the union formed outside NLRB. At the time of our inquiry, the NLRB office had no new information on the status of the negotiations, and did not comment on SMU’s position to recognize the union outside the NLRB.
As of the publication of this article, a decision has not been reached by the regional NLRB office on the petition to withdrawal put forth by SEIU and the Faculty Union Organizing Committee. Neither the administration nor the Faculty Union Organizing Committee have made any more announcements on the issue, as the final decision awaits word from the NLRB office in Seattle.