A new decision from the National Labor Relations Board allows a contentious case regarding union representation of contingent faculty members at Parkland's Pacific Lutheran University to be proceed to appeal.
The decision, issued by the board Monday, allows a union representation election to proceed at the university while the appeal is pending.
Allowed to vote in that election are 152 present and former contingent faculty members at PLU. If a majority of those voting decide to approve the union, the Service Employees International Union will represent adjunct faculty members in contract talks with the university.
Steve Starkovich, the university's provost, said the NLRB decision to allow PLU's appeal to move forward was recognition that the university's issues are substantial and require the full board's attention.
The university is appealing a June decision by NLRB Regional Director Ronald Hooks that allowed the SEIU to organize adjunct faculty members. Hooks' decision set in motion a union representation election. Ballots in that election are due at the NLRB's office by Oct. 10.
The national board's decision said the appeal should move forward on two issues raised by the university: the question whether the NLRB has jurisdiction in the case and whether some of the faculty the union seeks to represent are managerial employees.
The university has asserted that its Lutheran affiliation makes it a religious institution not subject to the board's decisions. It has also asserted that some of the contingent faculty are in fact managers and not eligible to be represented by the SEIU.
NLRB Regional Director Hooks said the ballots cast in the election will be collected by the NLRB and impounded until the full board issues its decision. Those ballots will not be read and counted until that decision.
Hooks said he doesn't know when the national board will act. Starkovich said he too had no inkling whether the NLRB's decision will happen sooner or later.
"The one thing I've learned during this procedure is not to make predictions," he said.
The university opposes the unionization efforts. In information distributed to the faculty, the university contends that inserting a union between the university and its faculty would create an adversarial relationship in an institution that prides itself on collaborative efforts.
PLU said the union doesn't have the ability to properly represent faculty members in the wide variety of jobs they perform at PLU.
Some contingent faculty members are hired full-time. Others work on a per-course or hourly basis. None of them are on a formal track that leads them to be granted tenure.
Contingent faculty members have complained that they have little job security and that they make less than regular faculty members.