Rather than allow Seattle University adjunct and contingent faculty the right to unionize, university president Stephen V. Sundborg released a video on Friday, explaining why Seattle U is seeking a court decision to determine if the NLRB unconstitutionally asserted jurisdiction over the jesuit school.
Seattle U adjuncts voted in summer 2014 whether to form a collective bargaining unit with Service Employees International Union Local 925, but the university appealed the election to the National Labor Relations Board under the argument it should be exempt from the NLRB as a religious institution. This caused the ballots to be impounded and not counted.
The NLRB issued an Aug. 23 decision that upheld the right of adjunct and contingent faculty to create a bargaining unit, but agreed with Seattle U that faculty School of Theology and Ministry and the Department of Theology and Religious Studies within the College of Arts & Sciences are exempt as they perform “a specific role in creating and maintaining the school’s religious educational environment.” The NLRB presided over a counting of the unsealed 2014 ballots on Sept. 9, which came out 73-63 in favor of creating a collective bargaining unit.
Seattle U issued a statement at that time that it would consider its options, but was concerned about what effect the NLRB having authority over its institution would have on Catholic educational institutions and their First Amendment right to religious freedom.
“The issue is not about the university’s support for unions,” Sundborg says in part of his video statement. “There are seven existing unions representing more than 60 nonfaculty members of our community on campus. Our decision on this matter will not affect any of them. They have been on campus for decades and the university has good relationships with each.”
Sundborg says at issue is jurisdiction, and Seattle U argues it has a constitutionally protected right to “carry out our core Jesuit Catholic educational mission free from government intrusion by the NLRB.”
“Simply put, NLRB jurisdiction could have a negative effect on our Jesuit Catholic identity and educational mission,” he says. “This would have long-term consequences for Seattle University.”
Sunborg goes on to say that “all our faculty” carries out the school’s Jesuit Catholic education mission, questioning whether the NLRB decision could have other ramifications, such as having to hire “faculty openly hostile to our Jesuit way of teaching and Catholic identity.”
SEIU 925 issued a statement Friday, following Seattle U’s release of its decision.
“It is atrocious that a supposedly progressive Jesuit institution has decided to violate workers’ rights and the law,” said SEIU 925 president Karen Hart in the statement. “These endless delay tactics are just excuses to avoid negotiating a fair contract with SU adjunct faculty. Seattle University spent the past two years appealing their employees’ right to form a union, and they’ve lost every step of the way. It’s time to move on, begin bargaining in good faith, and live up to the social justice values they claim to uphold.”
Message from Father Steve from Seattle University on Vimeo.