For several years, battles have raged in religious schools about whether or not their adjunct faculty had the right to organize unions. Mostly Catholic universities had argued that their adjunct faculty should not be able to organize into unions because they were religious schools – despite incredibly strong Catholic Social Teaching in support of unions.
On Dec. 16, the National Labor Relations Board issued a decision about Pacific Lutheran University, a Lutheran school claiming a religious exemption for its adjunct and non-tenured faculty. The decision laid out a new test for schools to meet in terms of being able to exempt their faculty from National Labor Relations Act coverage. The first test is whether the schools provides a religious educational environment. This is a relatively easy test to meet for most religious schools.
The second one is more significant. To be exempt from coverage, “the petitioned for faculty members are performing a religious function.” The universities promote themselves as welcoming diverse students from other faith traditions and hire faculty with little regard for faith backgrounds.
The decision said that Pacific Lutheran University’s adjunct and non-tenured track faculty, 176 of them altogether, did indeed have the right to be in a union if they wanted. Then last week (February 12, 2015), the National Labor Board told the regional boards to review the cases filed by Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit, Saint Xavier University, Seattle University and Manhattan College using the new test as outlined in the Pacific Lutheran University decision. Good news for adjuncts at all these schools.