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PLU Contingent Faculty Withdraw Election Petition

Posted by: Date: December 22, 2014 In:
Spring day with white cherry blossums

Update on Jan. 15, 2015: PLU Contingent Faculty Withdraw Election Petition

TACOMA, WA (Jan. 15, 2015)—The petition filed with the National Labor Relations Board from Pacific Lutheran University contingent faculty to form a union has been withdrawn. This means that the current union election is over, and the challenged votes will not be counted.

“As we have stated before, we believe our robust, general-assembly style of faculty governance can serve as a model for other universities, and we are committed to resuming our work to address the concerns of contingent faculty through PLU’s Faculty Governance Committee and the Contingent Faculty Task Force,” said Steven P. Starkovich, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs. “This work had, by law, been on hold while the union effort was underway. Now we can pick up where we left off and get back to solving the issues faced by our contingent faculty.”

Update on Jan. 8, 2015: Voters Support Existing Faculty Governance Structure by a Margin of 64 Percent

The Seattle regional office of the National Labor Relations Board today counted the ballots in the delayed Pacific Lutheran University adjunct union vote, and the results were 30 votes for union representation, 54 votes against union representation and 38 challenged ballots.  The NLRB will be resolving these challenges over the next few months.

The ballots were originally due on October 10, 2013, but were impounded while the national Board examined two significant aspects of case law pertaining to collective bargaining with faculty members at private, religiously affiliated colleges and universities. Some of the ballots were challenged by PLU and some by the SEIU. Most of the challenges PLU made involved ballots that had a date stamp of October 17, 2013, which was after the voting deadline set by the NLRB of October 10, 2013. The federal government shutdown happened from Oct 1-16, 2013, so there was no way to ensure that the votes were cast by the deadline.

“We are gratified that the faculty of PLU have voted to support our unique system of shared governance — in which all full-time faculty members, tenure line and contingent alike — have full voice and vote in the Faculty Assembly,” said Steven P. Starkovich, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Pacific Lutheran University.  “We believe our robust, general assembly style of faculty governance can serve as a model for other universities.  And we are committed to continuing the work underway since March, 2013 to address the concerns of contingent faculty through PLU’s Faculty Governance Committee and the Contingent Faculty Task Force.”

NLRB Finds that PLU Meets the Threshold Requirement But Adopts a New Test

December 22, 2014: The National Labor Relations Board issued a ruling that affects two significant aspects of case law pertaining to collective bargaining with faculty members at private, religiously affiliated colleges and universities.  The NLRB reviewed the standard it applies in accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision in NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago regarding when the NLRB has jurisdiction over faculty members at religiously affiliated colleges and universities, and second, they re-examined the standard for determining when faculty members are managerial employees in accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision in NLRB v. Yeshiva University.

If the test to determine NLRB jurisdiction over faculty bargaining units at religiously affiliated colleges and universities that had been developed by the federal courts of appeal was followed, all NLRB members agreed that the NLRB has no jurisdiction over PLU.  But the NLRB, by a 3-2 vote, adopted a new test — that its contingent faculty members must also perform a religious function — and applied this new test to find NLRB jurisdiction.

“All five Board members agree that the NLRB’s prior test was wrong, and all five agree that PLU meets the D.C. Circuit test to be exempt from NLRB jurisdiction,” said Steven P. Starkovich, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Pacific Lutheran University.  “Thus, as to the specific argument we made — that PLU is exempt from NLRB jurisdiction because we ‘provide a religious educational environment’ — the NLRB unanimously agreed.

“While we have just started to analyze and understand this new test, it appears to radically depart from at least 30 years of precedent and it appears to have exactly the same constitutional defects as the prior, now discredited, test.  It smacks of changing the rules in the middle of the game,” Starkovich said.  “We understand that the next step is to count the ballots and that PLU has no avenue to appeal this decision until the election results are final.”

Background of the Petition

On April 11, 2013, the Service Employees International Union, Local 925, filed a petition seeking to represent a unit of non-tenure-eligible contingent faculty members employed by PLU.  The university challenged the union’s petition, arguing that PLU is exempt from the Board’s jurisdiction under NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago (1979), and that certain of its faculty – full-time contingent faculty members with the right to vote in the PLU Faculty Assembly – are managerial employees under NLRB v. Yeshiva University (1980).

Following a hearing, the Seattle regional NLRB director issued a decision allowing a union election to go forward.  PLU filed a request for review of the regional director’s decision.  With respect to the Board’s assertion of jurisdiction, PLU argued that, under the test articulated by the D.C. Circuit in University of Great Falls v. NLRB, it is exempt from the Board’s jurisdiction because PLU provides a religious educational environment.  Second, the university argued that its full-time contingent faculty members are managerial employees excluded from coverage under the act.

On September 23, 2013, the Board granted the University’s request for review with respect to both issues.  On February 10, 2014, the Board issued a notice and invitation to file briefs in this case to the parties as well as the general public.  The board decision can be found here.

Background on PLU Contingent Faculty

Unlike many universities where part-time faculty members do most of the teaching, at PLU the vast majority of student credit hours are taught by tenure-line faculty and full-time contingents with full benefits.  In recent years, less than nine percent of credit hours were taught by part-time faculty teaching individual courses without benefits, or taught as private hourly music instruction.  According to data gathered by the Chronicle of Higher Education, universities in the Puget Sound area pay approximately $2,300-$5,000 per course.  PLU’s per course pay ranges between $4,200-$5,600 per course.  The only faculty members paid hourly are those who provide private music instruction. They are paid $51.00 per hour.  For comparison, the minimum wage in Washington State is the highest in the nation; it will increase to $9.47 on January 1, 2015.

PLU has a robust, general assembly legislative style of faculty governance.  All full time faculty members — tenure line and contingent alike — have full voice and vote in the Faculty Assembly.  The Faculty Assembly adopts the policies related to faculty governance at PLU.