By Victor Ordonez
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) had voluntarily withdrawn its petition to represent Fordham adjuncts, according to the director of communications for the university, Bob Howe.
In his email to the university on April 12, Howe said that he was surprised by recent protests “because the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) had voluntarily withdrawn its petition to represent our adjuncts (we are not aware of the reasons behind their decision to withdraw their petition).”
Both Fordham Faulty United (FFU) and SEIU members alike have confirmed that the SEIU petition to unionize had been recently repealed.
FFU filed for a union election in conjunction with the (SEIU) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on March 20. The SEIU is an organization that strives to bargain contracts that improve wages and working conditions, according to their website.
FFU adjunct member Hannah Jopling said that the withdrawal of the petition was per the advice of SEIU itself.
“We as a group decided to side with the SEIU because of their extensive experience with Jesuit universities and their approach in supporting faculty on the ground… as well as their general success,” said Jopling. “We withdrew our petition mainly due to our administration invoking religious freedoms and stating that they refuse to recognize the jurisdiction of the federal government’s National Labor Relations Board.”
A recent email from FFU addressed the withdrawal and said that there were other routes to unionization that could likely circumvent further roadblocks from the administration.
“Our administration invoked religious freedoms and demonstrated they were committed to legally blocking our path forward for a union,” said the FFU email. “It was because of this anti-union response that we withdrew our petition.”
In a university-wide email from Howe on April 13, he said that the administration had not blocked any union vote. “It should be pointed out that the University has not blocked the unionization of adjunct faculty,” said Howe.
However, on March 29 the administration did in fact respond with legal documentation. In this legal documentation, administration details classifications or other employee groupings that should be excluded from the petitioned for unit. For example, The administration’s “Employer’s Statement of Position” stated the following regarding adjunct professors:
“Temporary and/or casual employees: Part-time adjunct faculty who do not work for more than one semester, or who do not teach two (2) courses per semester are temporary and/pr casual employees, and, therefore, do not share a sufficient community of interest with the petitioned for unit”
Those who fall into these classifications, such as Fordham adjuncts, are prevented from organizing a union vote in relation to the NLRB or SEIU.
On April 3, Howe said in an email response to The Ram that the administration’s response was out of concern that Fordham University’s first amendment rights would not be obliged by the NLRB because it was a religious-affiliated institution.
“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,” Howe said in his email. “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.”
The administration’s legal documentation itself was based on the preexisting court ruling of NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, according to Howe. In this case, the courts held that institutions operated by a church to teach both religious and secular subjects are not within the jurisdiction the NLRB. As such, the Fordham administration could invoke the ruling of this court case.
The basis for such legal action by Fordham administration has been met with controversy from Fordham faculty and members of FFU. Director of the faculty salary and benefits committee Andrew Clark said that the administration had “used the fact that Fordham is a Jesuit school to deny the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board and block the contingent faculty’s democratic right to unionize.”
In further response to Howe, Jopling said that the administration had neglected to review recent instances which religious-affiliated institutions had managed to permit NLRB involvement with faculty unions.
“Howe failed to mention that Fordham has chosen to ignore two recent NLRB decisions that permit faculty at Catholic Colleges — with the exception of professors of theology — to form a union,” said Jopling.
One of the recent events Jopling referred to is the unionization of adjunct professors at Georgetown University, who are currently aligned under the NLRB. Georgetown is Jesuit institution.
Howe had also said in his email on April 13 that FFU may seek union recognition once again since the SEIU petition was withdrawn.
There are still alternative processes to forming a union other than the NLRB. Fordham can voluntarily recognize the adjunct union, the American Arbitration Association (AAA) can be hired to hold an election or Fordham can agree to have some neutral third party, like an elected official, review union authorization cards and acknowledge a majority support for the union, if one exists.
The administration has been under fire for several issues in addition to the current adjunct situation. For instance, the administration’s proposed health care cuts have motivated the faculty senate to hold a vote of no confidence in Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university. The vote will take place on April 19, the day before the Board of Trustees will meet to decide the 2017-18 budget.
Assisted reporting by Theresa Schliep and Erin Shanahan.
April 14: This publication has been updated to include addition comments from FFU member Hannah Jopling.