The National Labor Relations Board ruled Tuesday that instructors of religious studies may be excluded from part-time faculty unions at two Catholic institutions.
While most of the media’s attention was focused on the board’s decision to allow graduate students at private colleges to form student unions, it also ruled that instructors of religious studies may be excluded from part-time faculty unions at two private, Roman Catholic institutions of higher learning.
The two decisions on the two schools reversed previous regional board rulings that adjunct professors of all disciplines (including religion) may form unions at St. Xavier University and Seattle University.
A 1979 U.S. Supreme Court decision, NLRB vs. Catholic Bishops of Chicago, asserted that faculty members at religious institutions aren’t entitled to collective bargaining under the labor relations act. The case did not make a distinction between faculty members at the school — it simply cast all faculty members at a religious institution under the same classification, which prevented them from unionization.
Fast forward to 2014, when the NLRB made a ruling in regards to Pacific Lutheran University. The board clarified its standards and ruled that just because a college is religious doesn’t mean that its faculty members can’t unionize.
Unfair labor practice complaints are filed with one of 26 regional offices of the NRLB. If a violation appears to exist, the case is sent to an administrative law judge and reviewed by the board. The NLRB said that a religious college would need to show that “it holds out the petitioned-for faculty members as performing a religious function” in order to keep them from unionizing.
The two regional board decisions relied on the previous NLRB ruling in regards to Pacific Lutheran University, and ruled that because they do not actually perform specific religious functions, the adjunct professors at St Xavier and Seattle University are eligible to be a part of a union and to collectively bargain. The NLRB ignored the Pacific Lutheran University standard and appeared to create a new divide between adjuncts at religious institutions who teach religious studies, and those who do not.
St. Xavier University adjunct professors are affiliated with the National Education Association, while adjuncts at Pacific Lutheran and Seattle University are affiliated with Service Employees International Union. The NLRB ignored the Pacific Lutheran University standard and appeared to create a new divide between adjuncts at religious institutions who teach religious studies, and those who do not.
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