A union seeking to organize temporary and part-time faculty members at Parkland’s Pacific Lutheran University scored a major legal victory Monday.
National Labor Relations Board regional director Ronald Hooks, casting aside the university’s legal objections, ruled that those contingent faculty members are entitled to hold an election in the fall to determine whether a union will represent them in negotiations with the school.
The Service Employees International Union Local 925 said the decision could set a precedent for temporary faculty members in universities around the country.
“This is a great day for all contingent faculty and students at PLU and other universities,” said Steve Lansing, former administrator of Region 1 Office of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and a PLU alumnus. “It shows that institutions can’t hide behind religious affiliation as an excuse to deny their employees a democratic voice.”
One of PLU’s main objections to the election was that as a religiously affiliated institution it wasn’t covered by labor laws that enabled a union representation election.
The university said its attorneys were still studying the 32-page decision that was the result of hearings in April.
“We are continuing on toward an appeal,” said PLU spokeswoman Edie Disler. PLU hopes to join with three other universities that have raised similar issues regarding union representation of their contingent faculty in taking the question to the full Labor Relations Board in the nation’s capital, she said.
According to the university spokeswoman, the NLRB must first accept review of the regional decision, and then it must decide whether the election will move forward while the appeal is heard.
The board could allow the election to be held, but it could impound the ballots until the full board makes a decision.
The local director said in his decision that the university’s numerous objections weren’t valid.
Besides raising the issue of religious affiliation, the university questioned whether the temporary faculty members the union wants to represent have enough interest in common to be represented by the same union.
The school employs 176 contingent faculty members but in a wide variety of positions. Some of those contingent faculty members are full-time with benefits, some are part-time with benefits and others are part-time without benefits. Most of them teach on campus, but others teach off-campus in a nearby church or in hospitals and clinics. Some are paid a salary that averages about 90 percent of that paid tenured faculty. Others are paid a lump sum per course taught. Yet others are paid by the hour.
Hooks held that since all are hired to teach courses by the university, and all are supervised by the dean of their departments and are required to advise students outside class, there is a sufficient common interest for them to be represented by a single union.
Hooks also denied the university’s request to exclude some contingent faculty members on a number of levels: because they are managers, because they have full-time jobs outside the university, because some are retired faculty members, because others are clinical supervisors, because they were hired to replace regular faculty members on leave or because they held positions at other universities.
Contingent faculty members say they have sought to organize under the union because of irregular working conditions and the lack of uniformity in pay and benefits.
While some contingent faculty are hired for only a single course or year, others have worked at the university as temporary employees for decades.
Jane Harty, a senior lecturer in the PLU Music Department, has worked as a contingent faculty member since 1978. Her half-time position, she said, pays $11,000 a year. She has a doctoral degree.
She said she’s confident that contingent faculty members will approve a union if the vote is allowed.
“This is a nationwide problem that needs to be resolved,” she said.
The university said earlier this year it was attempting to directly settle issues arising with contingent faculty members, but some contingent faculty leaders said the school was moving too slowly toward some sort of comprehensive agreement or solution, thus the need to bring in the union.John Gillie: 253-597-8663