Labor Board Hands Pacific Lutheran U. Adjuncts a Win in Bid to Unionize

The National Labor Relations Board has handed contingent faculty members at Pacific Lutheran University a major win in their bid to form a labor union, rejecting the university’s assertion that, as a religious institution, it is exempt from the NLRB’s jurisdiction.

The board’s decision is also significant because it refines the NLRB’s standard that is used to determine whether certain faculty members can be considered managerial employees and therefore denied union representation.

That question was at the heart of a landmark 1980 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, National Labor Relations Board v. Yeshiva University (444 U.S. 672), which has since essentially barred full-time faculty members at private colleges from forming unions.

A regional official of the NLRB ruled last year that adjuncts at Pacific Lutheran could move to unionize. The full labor board later agreed to review the case, and in February, it solicited input on both of the questions that were central to the dispute.

Pacific Lutheran had asserted that, as a university affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, it was exempt from the labor board’s jurisdiction. Several other religious institutions have made similar arguments in cases before the board. The university also argued that certain professors who were seeking to join the bargaining unit—full-time contingent faculty members—qualified as managers under the Yeshiva decision who could be denied union representation.

The board rejected both of those arguments. In its decision, the NLRB said that although Pacific Lutheran provided a religious educational environment, the board could assert jurisdiction because the university “does not hold its petitioned-for faculty members out as performing any religious function.”

The decision also said that the university had “failed to prove” that full-time contingent faculty members exercised managerial authority.

“In particular, we find that there is insufficient evidence that the full-time contingent faculty are substantially involved in decision making affecting the key areas of academic programs, enrollment management, and finances,” the decision stated.

The board sent the case back to the regional officer for further proceedings.

For more, see this article from The Chronicle.

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