The big news in Catholic employment relations this month: Fordham University President Joseph McShane, SJ announced that out of respect for Catholic social teaching on the rights of workers the university would not oppose their adjuncts if they wished to form a union and bargain collectively.
Adjunct faculty at universities across the United States, Catholic and secular, have sought to form unions in recent years to remedy low pay, poor benefits, and job insecurity. Some Catholic universities, such as Georgetown and Trinity Washington, have adopted a neutral stance, leaving the decision to the workers themselves – a stance conforming with Church teaching on the right of workers to join trade unions. Others, however, such as nearby Manhattan College, have refused to recognize and bargain with adjunct unions – and then invoked First Amendment protections to escape legal consequences, seeking to associate “union avoidance” practices with the preservation of religious freedom.
Fordham adjuncts and administrators spent the spring in tense confrontations over the instructors’ union aspirations, and it often seemed that Fordham would follow the example of Manhattan, Duquesne and other schools denying employees their right to organize. But instead, after a long process of discernment, Fr. McShane announced in an email:
After much consultation and reflection, I have decided that the University will not oppose the unionization of adjunct faculty. As you receive this email, we have initiated discussion with the union over the University adopting a stance of neutrality regarding the organization of our adjunct faculty.
I have become convinced of the rightness of this course of action over the last few months by conversations with my fellow Jesuits. After all, organized labor has deep roots in Catholic social justice teachings. And though this is an issue that many universities are facing—not all of which have come to the same decision—given its Jesuit traditions and historic connection to first-generation and working-class students, Fordham has a special duty in this area.
(The complete text of the email can be found online courtesy of Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz Initiative.) We at the Catholic Labor Network applaud Fr. McShane and the Fordham administration on this important decision, and the witness it offers to Catholic business leaders nationwide. We fervently hope and pray that this begins a new chapter in labor relations at the university, one of mutual respect and cooperation for the common good.
In other news: The NLRB has announced that Manhattan University adjunct faculty voted 59-46 for union representation! Well, it may not be “news” news – the faculty voted in 2011, but the Manhattan administration’s legal arguments kept the ballots impounded for six years. Now that Manhattan knows that its adjunct instructors want union representation, will they honor their employees’ choice? Perhaps the vote results, and events at Fordham, will provide the Manhattan administration aids to discernment as well.