After two years, we have learned that Seattle university adjuncts voted 73-63 to join SEIU 925. Why the delay? The University was unwilling to bargain collectively with its contingent faculty voluntarily, and when the adjuncts turned to the labor board for help, the administration fought the board by invoking freedom of religion. The university, like Duquesne, St. Xavier and a handful of others, is trying to suggest it’s in the same situation as Catholic employers told to provide contraception under the Affordable Care Act – though unlike those employers, the colleges are not being asked to do anything in conflict with their faith.
The NLRB did modify its initial determination in deference to religious freedom issues. At both St. Xavier University and Seattle the NLRB announced that religion and/or theology instructors are not subject to the National Labor Relations Act on First Amendment grounds. It is indeed essential to preserve our freedom of religion, and to a layman this certainly sounds like a reasonable application of the law. Still, I hope that these and other schools will choose to bargain with religion and theology faculty who want a union – not because of legal sanctions, but just to lead by example and conform with Catholic social teaching.