Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Federal Ruling Clears Way For Adjunct Faculty At PLU And Elsewhere To Unionize

George Wesley & Bonita Dannells
The NLRB found in favor of PLU contingent faculty in their pursuit of a vote on unionization.

A federal rulinghas paved the way for adjunct and part-time faculty at Pacific Lutheran University to unionize. The decision also sets a new precedent that could affect religiously-affiliated colleges and universities across the nation, including Seattle University.

(PLU holds the license for KPLU, where on-air staff are represented by the union SAG-AFTRA.)

Temporary, part-time and non-tenure-track faculty at PLU already voted on whether to join a union, but those votes have not been counted. Instead, they were quickly impounded as the university appealed faculty members’ right to organize.

PLU argued in part that, as a religious school, it is exempt from the National Labor Relations Act, which safeguards collective bargaining rights for most private-sector employees.

On Friday the National Labor Relations Board said the university is not exempt, and it established a new standard for determining who is: Faculty members keep their right to organize unless they have clear religious duties.

PLU provost Steve Sarkovich said invoking a new test for who’s exempt is akin to changing the rules in the middle of the game.

“[The test] appears to radically depart from at least 30 years of precedent and it appears to have exactly the same constitutional defects as the prior, now discredited, test,” Starkovich said in a statement.

PLU had also argued that full-time contingent faculty are managers, and therefore not eligible to be part of a collective bargaining unit. The labor board was not convinced.

The university now must let the votes be counted, but after that, the school has not ruled out a legal challenge.

The ruling is a victory for faculty both at PLU and other religiously-affiliated schools who wish to organize.

“We’re getting high fives from faculty and union staff all over the country, because they know it has the potential for helping contingent faculty all over the country,” said Jane Harty, a lecturer in PLU’s music department.

Harty said the votes will likely be counted sometime in January. If they favor unionizing, Harty says the faculty will bargain for better wages, working conditions and representation.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.