While a few Catholic colleges are, sadly, scanning US labor law for opportunities to prevent adjuncts from organizing, Notre Dame de Namur is taking a step in the opposite direction: scanning the law for opportunities to implement Catholic social teaching on the rights of labor. Ever since NLRB v. Yeshiva in 1980, the law has generally held that tenured university faculty are “management” and not under National Labor Relations Act jurisdiction. This doesn’t actually mean that they can’t form unions and bargain, but it does give university administrators a green light if they choose the path of union busting. But when the tenured faculty at Notre Dame de Namur sought to join SEIU 1021, the administration didn’t look for a way to thwart them but a way to recognize their right to organize. Faculty voted 35-6 to join the union, and according to Inside Higher Education the university is evaluating its governance structure to ensure it is compatible with the NLRA.
It’s been a good couple of months for adjunct and contingent faculty organizing in Catholic Higher Education, with a growing number of universities appreciating that honoring the rights of labor is part of our Catholic identity, not a threat to it. In May and June, contingent faculty at Holy Names University (Oakland CA) and St. Louis University (MO) have voted union yes; ballots will be counted June 17 at St. Martin’s University (Lacey WA).