By Victor Ordonez
Fordham administration released plans to legally deter Fordham’s adjunct faculty attempt to unionize on Friday, March 31. Fordham’s administration responded by hiring “union busting” lawyers and opposing the adjunct faculty unionization effort, according to an email from Fordham Faculty United (FFU) members Chris Brandt, Hannah Jopling, Alessandro King, Kathryn Krasinski and Alan Trevithick.
In reaction to the administration’s attempt to prevent unionization, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said:
“I believe deeply in workers’ right to self-determination – to choose freely whether or not to unionize. I value the contributions Fordham University makes to our city as an institution of higher learning and an economic engine. The non-tenure track faculty makes up more than half of the teaching staff at Fordham and help ensure that the university continues to be a dynamic and innovative institution. I encourage Fordham’s administration to agree to a fair process in a timely manner that allows for the non-tenure track faculty to vote on whether or not to join a union, and be given the same opportunity for unionization as many other employees and faculty at Fordham.”
After a previously established stance of neutrality from president of the University Rev. Joseph M. McShane, Fordham adjuncts filed for a union election in conjunction with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
After McShane’s neutral response to FFU, Fordham administration released legal plans that work to delay any vote to unionize.
FFU has called on Father McShane and Fordham to “adhere to Catholic social teachings and allow faculty to move forward with their election either through the National Labor Relations Board or alternative means” in an email response to Fordham’s legal plans.
Specifically, Fordham administration claimed that the faculty cannot unionize under the National Labor Relations Act because Fordham is a religiously-affiliated university.
Bob Howe, assistant vice president for communications and special adviser to the president, said that the attempt to unionize additionally infringes on the university’s freedom of speech.
“As a Catholic, Jesuit University, Fordham absolutely supports the right of employees to organize and join unions,” said Howe. “The administration and the Board of Trustees are deeply concerned, however, that religious institutions’ First Amendment freedoms not be abridged by the decisions of the National Labor Relations Board. Both the courts and other Catholic universities–including Manhattan College, Loyola Chicago, Saint Xavier, Seattle, DePaul, and Duquesne–have challenged the NLRB’s jurisdiction over their teachers or faculty.”
Howe also said that the 1979 ruling of NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago by the Supreme Court is the underlying precedent behind the university’s position. In NLRB v. Catholic Bishop, the Supreme Court determined that the NLRB did not have the authority to assert jurisdiction over labor–management relations and practices in Church-operated institutions.
The adjunct faculty have responded by constructing two petition. The first petition is for anyone affected by faculty working conditions, including students, parents and any addition faculty eager to participate. The second petition for any Fordham University alumni.
Several Fordham faculty members have found the recent legal actions to directly challenges the university’s jesuit values.
“The administration’s response contravenes the social justice values embodied in the Jesuit tradition,” the FFU email said. “We are appalled that Father McShane and the Fordham administration would so flagrantly disregard Jesuit values of economic justice and equality and block contingent faculty in their efforts to attain a basic standard of living.”
Kathryn Krasinski, a Fordham anthropology professor and member of FFU, said that did not expect Fordham to use religion as a suitable deterrent.
“Just because Fordham is a Jesuit school, it should not preclude any group of workers on campus from forming a union,” said Krasinski. “Our school advertises a strong mission of social justice. It makes no sense that the administration would hide behind religion to stonewall us contingent faculty.”
FFU member and adjunct professor Chris Brandt said that he was surprised Fordham had decided not to follow the lead of such other Jesuit institutions as Georgetown and Saint Louis Universities, who have allowed for adjunct unionization.
Brandt said that FFU is asking for the administration to “simply follow the Jesuit Just Employment Policy.”
The Fordham administration had hired the same lawyers involved in a similar adjunct case at LIU Post, which resulted in a lockout did when that university carried out its ill-advised lockout of its faculty last fall, according to FFU.