NPR
Saturday, June 23, 2012

National Labor Relations Board Blocks Duquesne’s Religious Exemption Request

Duquesne Says Its Catholic Mission Cannot Be A Point of Negotiation

A motion from Duquesne University to withdraw from a union election has been rejected by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). An agreement between Duquesne and the United Steelworkers (USW) was reached three weeks ago regarding the election by adjunct faculty members, but the university has since declared it is outside of the NLRB’s jurisdiction, claiming religious exemption.

A motion from Duquesne University to withdraw from a union election has been rejected by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). An agreement between Duquesne and the United Steelworkers (USW) was reached three weeks ago regarding the election by adjunct faculty members, but the university has since declared it is outside of the NLRB’s jurisdiction, claiming religious exemption.

USW spokesman Jeff Cech said the union recognizes Duquesne’s religious affiliation, but it is not a significant aspect of the school’s role in the election.

Obviously, there’s a Catholic element, but within the classroom, they don’t require students to study Catholicism. More importantly, the contracts that the adjuncts sign don’t speak to any religious requirement for them as employees,” Cech said.

He added that Duquesne’s response is not uncommon among major employers. “Most corporations don’t want to see their workforce organized because then suddenly they have pay them fair wages, provide them with healthcare and job security, they’re no longer flexible, they’re no longer able to fire people at will. It’s not easy for an employer to have their way when it comes to an organized workforce,” Cech said.

Duquesne University issued a statement saying its decision to challenge the NLRB's jurisdiction in this matter doesn't ignore Catholic social teaching.

"It does not represent any unwillingness to improve the wages and benefits of our adjunct faculty. Our track record shows our commitment to providing competitive wages and benefits for our employees.  We have been and will continue working toward doing the same for our adjunct faculty. The issue at hand is the constitutionality of the NLRB having jurisdiction over the matter."

The statement continued.  

"The living out of our Catholic mission and identity is Duquesne's highest priority, and our faculty is uniquely positioned to promote and exemplify the mission given their direct interaction with our students and the community.  Under NLRB jurisdiction, Duquesne's requirement to observe the principals of our mission would become subject to collective bargaining, and adherence to our mission cannot be a point of negotiation.  As a religious institution, we qualify for exemption from NLRB jurisdiction."

So, the university filed a special appeal with the NLRB, which is also reviewing the religious exemption issues pertaining to the Association of Catholic Colleges & Universities, the LaSallian Association of College & University Presidents and the Association of Jesuit Colleges. 

Pending this appeal, the NLRB is planning to proceed with its plan to mail out ballots to 124 adjunct instructors on June 22. A board officer will count the votes on July 10, two weeks after they are returned, to determine if the instructors voted to unionize.

The USW is mounting a campaign to organize the adjunct instructor workforce throughout the Pittsburgh area.