As our regular readers know, American universities have cut instructional costs by shifting an ever-growing share of teaching duties from costly tenured faculty to part-time adjunct instructors with low salaries and few (if any) employment benefits. In response, adjunct faculty at several universities, including Catholic ones, have formed unions to bargain collectively.
It should be easier for them to do this at Catholic colleges than it is at secular ones – after all, Catholic social teaching is quite explicit in supporting workers’ right to join unions. In some cases that’s exactly how it works. Adjunct faculty at Trinity Washington who voted to join SEIU 500 recently became the latest such group to ratify a union contract after relatively amicable (if long) negotiations. Details of the contract can be found on the SEIU 500 website.
Unfortunately, when a Catholic university decides to ignore Catholic social teaching and refuses to recognize a union chosen by its adjunct faculty, it can actually be harder for the adjuncts to secure their rights at a Catholic institution than a secular one. Some colleges, such as St. Martin’s in Seattle, are trying to use their religious identity as a shield for unfair labor practices – arguing that the first amendment grants them impunity.
That claim is being litigated as I write, but the adjuncts at St. Martin’s who voted 2-1 to join SEIU 925 are not waiting idly. On Ash Wednesday, 75 adjuncts and their supporters walked out for a one-day strike and rally on the university grounds. “Give up union busting for Lent!” they chanted.