NLRB: part-time faculty at Duquesne Univ. can unionize

In a recent ruling by the Pittsburgh regional office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), adjunct professors at Duquesne University may unionize and be represented by the Adjunct Faculty Association of the United Steelworkers.

The president of the private Catholic university, Charles Dougherty, responded to the decision, claiming that that the school “intends to appeal the local NLRB's decision to the NLRB in Washington, D.C., and to the United States courts, if necessary.”

Dougherty views the ruling as a violation of the school’s First Amendment rights, and believes that the University has the “right to be free from an unconstitutional intrusion of government control over it as a religious institution.”

In contrast, the NLRB asserted that the professors at the Pittsburgh, Penn. school are performing “non-religious” work, and thus are able to unionize.

The decision is not without precedent. In 2014, adjunct faculty at Pacific Lutheran University won the right to unionize on the basis that they “are not expected to perform a specific role in creating or maintaining the school’s religious educational environment.”

In many cases, part-time faculty members do not teach religious classes, even at religious schools.

The NLRB argued that a religious school needs to show that "the petitioned-for faculty members as performing a religious function. This requires a showing by the college or university that it holds out those faculty as performing a specific role in creating or maintaining the university’s religious educational environment."

Dougherty said that the NLRB “should not be determining whether we are religious enough by their own standards.”

Some members of his faculty disagree.

Fr. Lou Vallone, a part-time faculty member in Duquesne’s School of Law, sees this as a major victory for him and his colleagues.

“Religious liberty is indeed a fundamental Catholic value, but it gives people and institutions the freedom to do the right thing, not the wrong thing,” Vallone argues. “Religious liberty is not religious license.”

“The Church teaches that all workers are entitled to the just fruits of their labor, not merely the lowest wage the market will bear,” Vallone continued. “And the Church teaches that labor unions are ‘indispensable’ to a just society not least because they can help workers secure a just wage.”

Similarly, Pope Francis recently remarked that educators today are underpaid.

Faculty unionization has become a trend. Campaigns like Adjunct Action serve as a catalyst for this movement, publishing posts such as “ National Adjunct Walkout Day Action Ideas,” which lists ideas to garner sympathy, such as encouraging professors to share their salary with students.

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