Notre Dame de Namur recognizes union rights of tenured faculty

seiu 1021 faculty

Courtesy SEIU 1021

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).

3 replies
  1. University Employee at NDNU
    University Employee at NDNU says:

    Ummm…..this article author needs to reassess the situation. The administration actively fought the unionization of the tenured faculty, going so far as to utilize legal grounds to try to halt it as well as the president sending out an email with her strong advocacy for NOT unionizing. The university did not in any way go out looking for ways to implement social justice. The faculty pushed for this process. The administration challenged it.

    • Clayton Sinyai
      Clayton Sinyai says:

      It’s true, no group of workers anywhere in America gets a union without a hard-fought organizing effort. And it doesn’t surprise me to hear that administrators discouraged the faculty from doing so: managers who face an organizing effort almost always react defensively. Often, with time, they discover that negotiating with their employees is not so bad, and can even bring new perspectives on shared problems — but at the start a union effort is usually perceived as a personal rejection.

      But I’m a glass half full guy. Ever since the Yeshiva, most private universities have just told tenured faculty seeking a union to go pound sand. A few agree to some kind of bargaining arrangement, but hold the professors’ “exempt status” over their heads. This is the first case I have heard of where a private university was cooperating with a faculty group to establish their eligibility for rights under the NLRA. Surely that counts for something!

  2. Donald C. Carroll, Pres. Law Offices of Carroll & Scully, Inc,, Adj. Prof. of Law, Univ. of San Francisco, Emeritus Trustee, NDNU
    Donald C. Carroll, Pres. Law Offices of Carroll & Scully, Inc,, Adj. Prof. of Law, Univ. of San Francisco, Emeritus Trustee, NDNU says:

    NDNU says that “justice” is at the heart of its mission. While it could have agreed to a neutral’s check of authorization cards instead of holding out for an NLRB election, it did not try to obstruct the right of the faculty, both part-time and full-time, to decide for themselves whether they wanted to be represented by a union. In doing this NDNU was doing no more than acting in accord with Catholic Social Teaching and its own mission. What comes next, viz. collective bargaining, will be the real test of whether the parties can reach an agreement(s). While I am not involved in the process, I am told that negotiating was expected to begin upon the beginning of the school year with a hope that an agreement can be reached by the end of the year. If the negotiations are going to be weighed down by University demands that faculty give up certain things that University advisers would characterize as “managerial” in nature, then the negotiations may become quite difficult and may involve litigation. Thus, the goal of Catholic Social Teaching that there be an agreement to protect the workers still remains to be achieved. Until then, there is nothing to be celebrating. Hopefully, the University will not do anything to appear punitive, and will be able to address the faculty’s issues to the mutual satisfaction of all.

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