Labor board rules in favor of workers at Catholic universities

Duquesne University Duquesne University

Employees at two Catholic universities are a step closer to having their unions recognized, as recent rulings from the National Labor Relations Board rejected arguments from the schools that their religious affiliation freed them from federal labor oversight.

A group of adjunct faculty at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University voted in 2012 to join the Adjuncts Faculty Association of the United Steelworkers. A regional director for the N.L.R.B. found that enough votes were cast in favor of joining the union, but the school resisted, arguing that its Catholic identity meant it was exempt from N.L.R.B. oversight.

In a 2-1 decision on April 10, the N.L.R.B. rejected that argument, saying the faculty taught secular material. It did, however, rule that theology professors are in a different category and are thus ineligible to join the union, writing that they perform “a specific role in maintaining the University’s religious educational environment.”

The N.L.R.B. ruling sends the issue back to its regional office to tabulate if there are still enough votes to unionize once the theology professors are excluded.

Theology professors are ineligible to join the union, since they perform “a specific role in maintaining the University’s religious educational environment.”

For its part, the school says it will continue to fight.

Ken Gormley, president of Duquesne, said in a statement to Law 360, a website tracking breaking legal news,that the ruling “directly conflicts” with previous court rulings about unions and religiously affiliated schools.

“The Supreme Court and multiple U.S. courts of appeal have recognized that the broad and deep powers of the N.L.R.B. pose serious First Amendment threats when asserted over faculty unions at religious-affiliated institutions,” he said. “For that reason, Duquesne University is evaluating all of its options pursuant to the board’s rules and regulations.”

He told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the issue was not whether the university supports unions, but that the university “could not risk negotiating its Catholic mission...or the faculty’s role in it with a union, much less…[leave it] to the supervision of a government agency in Washington, D.C.”

A lawyer for the Steelworkers Union, meanwhile, said the school’s position put it in conflict with its Catholic values.

“We think it's frankly hypocritical of them to hide behind the Catholic identity to avoid doing what the Catholic Church explicitly tells them to do—that is, to honor labor unions,” Dan Kovalik told the paper.

The N.L.R.B. also ruled against another Catholic university last week, saying that housekeepers at St. Xavier University in Chicago were eligible to unionize despite protests from the school.

As at Duquesne, officials at St. Xavier argued that its religious affiliation makes it exempt from having to recognize the staff’s vote to join the Service Employees International Union.

But in a 2-1 decision, the board found that the duties of the cleaning crew are “wholly secular” and that the staff “do not have any teaching role or perform any specific religious duties or functions.”

Housekeepers asked to join the S.E.I.U. in 2012 and held an election in 2013, but the ballots were kept secret, Law 360 reported. The board’s decision sends the case to a regional director.

In both the Duquesne and St. Xavier rulings, the acting chairman of the N.L.R.B. dissented, arguing that the board was wading into thorny constitutional questions.

In his dissent on the St. Xavier case, Philip A. Miscimarra wrote that although “this case might look like an easy one—most would view housekeeping as a secular activity—cases involving nonteaching employees may present facts that lead the Board into even deeper entanglements with an institution’s religious mission.”

St. Xavier and and Duquesne are hardly alone when it comes to universities arguing that their religious identity exempts them from government oversight. The rulings are the latest salvo in a years-long battle about the role of proposed unions, often for adjunct faculty, at Catholic institutions.

“The freedom to determine what is or what is not religious activity inside our church is at stake.”

In an essay published last year, Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., the president of DePaul University, said the issue is not Catholic animus toward unions, but government interference in church affairs. He wrote that a N.L.R.B. ruling in 2014, which extended labor oversight to non-religious employees at religious-based entities, is allowing the government to define religious activity rather than believers themselves.

“Several Catholic universities now find themselves in the positions of deciding whether to oppose the attempt of the N.L.R.B. to assert jurisdiction on this new legal basis,” Father Holtschneider wrote. “The freedom to determine what is or what is not religious activity inside our church is at stake.”

Labor advocates note that the Catholic Church has a long history of supporting unions and say Catholic institutions opposed to organizing efforts are acting hypocritically.

“The glaring inconsistency between Catholic social teaching and the failure of Catholic institutions to protect the right to unionize may even lead Catholics to abandon the church,” ethicist Gerald J. Beyer and lawyer Donald C. Carroll wrote in the National Catholic Reporter last year. “Catholic institutions of higher learning cannot successfully pursue their mission without practicing what they teach.”

 

Vince Killoran
2 months 1 week ago

Some good news on the economic justice front! All Catholics institutions should be promoting the cause of unionization.

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 months 1 week ago

Vince
And if the Union promotes and stands for "Pro Choice" as a basic value then should the Catholic Institutions be promoting the Union?
And there is a litany of other political and moral issues with which the unions involve themselves which have nothing to do with economics or economic justice. Certainly the teachers unions have become exemplars of involvement in issues that Church holds opposing views on.....Planned Parenthood being one of those issues
If you are a member of a Union must you resign if it supports views opposed to the Church's position on a moral issue?

Vince Killoran
2 months 1 week ago

These higher education institutions admit students who are pro-choice, right? Why them but not a faculty's bona fide union? I don't know what you mean by "as a basic value": what does that have to do with the moral demand for economic justice and for employers to engage in collective bargaining? This seems like an anti-union smoke screen.

In any case, unions are democratic, i.e., if you are a member and don't like their positions, get yourself (or an ally) elected to office or as a convention delegate and change the union's stance.

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 months 1 week ago

Vince
Your comment said "all Catholic Institutions " should support unionization.
"Catholic Institutions" are suppose to support positions and basic values iwhich are recognizably "catholic". In fact this was the reason they were founded......to imbue education, charitable work and care with essential Catholic Values.
If a specific union has a group of issues which it officially promotes or supports that are contrary to the "catholic" position concerning these issues then I think it is quite reasonable , if not necessary , that the Catholic Institutions should not support such a Union. In point of fact the Catholic Institution should oppose such a Union for just that reason.
Your suggestion that Catholic Educational Institutions admit students who are pro choice and therefore must recognize a bona Fide unionof faculty is a non sequitor. Catholic Educational Institutions while recognizing individual rights of choice
have none the less always maintained their right to approve or disapprove of "student organizations" it officially recognizes on campus based on their consistency with the Institutions Catholic values.
The question you might consider is why a union founded on the position of seeking "economic justice" involves itself in the non economic issues? I believe the correct answer is to concentrate political support in a symbiotic relationship with other groups who agree to support the Union version of Economic Justice in return for that Union's support of these other social issues. As such each of the unions has made their support of these other issues essential parts of achieving its goals. It is not the Catholic Institution which has conflated these viewpoints
For instance their is no chance of the teachers union dropping its " pro choice stance" with out losing Planned Parenthood's opposition to the school voucher proposals and "right to work" laws. Thus it is the unions which bring (force) a literal "package of issues" to (on) the Catholic Institutions. It is a unified position that effectively requires Catholic endorsement of all such issues if it is to support the union in its quest for economic justice....

While entirely off the point of a Catholic Institutions interaction with a Union , your defensive argument that "in any case unions are democratic" does not stand up to the scrutiny of historic evidence: Your chance of changing union leadership to effect union positions on issues is a virtual nullity. To get a handle on my point I invite you to list the names and the dates of tenure of the last 5 presidents of the Teachers Union (AFT). The term length of each demonstrates a Boss Tweed , rather than a democratic structure. To dig deeper check out how many of these AFT elections were seriously contested.
When was the last time the Teachers Union took a general membership vote on that union's stance on various issues with a basic moral dimension? To demonstrate how secure Teachers Union management is in acting in an authoritarian fashion ; President Randi Weingartner officially endorsed Hillary Clinton for President in the primary without consulting the Union membership. While that led to a temporary uproar, the many Sanders supporters were quickly and effectively silenced WITHOUT A VOTE and the union donated about $2,000,000 to the Clinton Campaign.
To see just how real democracy works when unions are stripped of governmental sponsorship then look to Wisconsin where union members voted "with their feet" . As soon as union membership was removed as a "condition of employment in Wisconsin as a teacher", the number of teachers union members plummeted.

Vince Killoran
2 months 1 week ago

"'Catholic Institutions' are suppose to support positions and basic values iwhich are recognizably 'catholic'."

Right. You're describing the many Catholic social teachings that are infused in the labor movement. Heaps of papal and theological backing for this. You're swimming agains the facts here. In any case, by your measure, Catholic institutions should have another to do with governmental bodies of any kind because they support abortion viz. ROE V. WADE.

Re. unions & democracies: they are democratic institutions, more democratic than any other public institutions of which I'm aware (never mind corporate America's poor record). Does this mean that every union local ever in the history of the American labor movement has been flawless? Of course not, and it would be silly to make this one's criteria. I've been active in rank-and-file efforts to reform pockets of recalcitrant unions so I'm not unaware of this history. (Opponents of the Civil Rights Movement tried to make this argument ca. 1950s-65.)

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 months 1 week ago

Vince
I agree that Catholic Social Justice is replete with support of all sorts of for economic justice....but you are simply ignoring the point that the unions which are pursuing those goals have "tied those economic goals" to other social issues on which the Church takes an entirely opposite point of view from that of the union. Those are the facts:.the unions have engaged in political and financial back scratching with groups who have an agenda well outside simple economic justice. The Pope has declared abortion to be "an abominable crime"......a crime which for political convenience unions like the AFT have aligned themselves as a matter of platform policy. Perhaps you could explain the "economic justice issue" involved in supporting "pro choice" or why a Union like the AFT has found it necessary to take any position on Roe vs Wade.

There are very few democratic groups which enjoy/require active government support and sponsorship other than unions . Unions have tried AND in far too many cases succeeded in requiring Union membership as a governmentally imposed legal precondition of a person's employment in an industry/ profession (such as the teachers union) It is hardly "democratic" to force such membership as a condition of Employment!
The undemocratic activities of unions is certainly not confined to various locals as the recent activities of the AFT demonstrate. The political muscle to get legislation requiring ""dues check off or union membership" is exerted at the national level not the local level. Wisconsin is the proof of what a true democratic choice results in when governmental sponsorship is removed. This is a threat that the unions have frankly acknowledged .....we unions certainly can't have members free to join or quit!

Vince Killoran
2 months 1 week ago

Unions must advocate for their members. You have a very narrow understanding of what constitutes economic justice. Regarding abortion (and birth control): they are both legal, and health insurance plans--for which unions negotiate--are important parts of a collective bargaining agreement.

If you don't like an elected official or a party in power then run your candidate(s) and get them in office. Don't like the fact that your workplace is organized? Vote them out in a decertification election. That's democracy.

Happy Easter.

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 months 1 week ago

Vince
Happy Easter
Certainly unions should advocate for their members but you seem to extend that to advocating against their non-members......not much social justice there!
My understanding of "economic justice" does not include having "a Union position" on Roe vs Wade. If you can find an "economic reason" for supporting abortion it would interesting to hear it.

Katherine S
2 months ago

Stuart, your objections are wrong on so many levels. First, the unions in question here take no position on abortion. That should settle your objections. Second, university recognition of the union is not a "gift" from management (as recognition of a student group might be) but simply accepting the employee's natural law right to self-organization. In fact it would illegal for management to take the position that the employees could only speak for themselves if they agreed to speak in way management felt acceptable.

Thomas Severin
2 months 1 week ago

One question that should be asked as regards these situations with adjunct professors working for Catholic colleges and universities is "Why do these professors feel the need to form a union?" Is it possible that they feel that they are being exploited by the institutions which have over fifty percent of their classes taught by adjunct professors as a method of cost saving, not having to pay benefits to those who are not full professors and only offering a flat rate per course which isn't commensurate with the level of education of the professors?
Is the moral high ground that the Catholic universities claim simply a ruse to cover up their unfair treatment of adjunct professors? Are they providing a living wage for adjuncts whose class loads often far exceed the full time professors' class loads but don't even come near to commensurate pay?
If the basic problem is in fact an unjust system of remuneration for adjunct professors, then the other arguments made for preserving Catholic identity or control over deciding what is "religious" work is just smoke and mirrors on the part of the universities.

Vincent Gaglione
2 months 1 week ago

The positions of the universities in these cases are embarrassing and disingenuous. This phony issue of freedom of religion is a bane to employees. Go to China and find out what freedom of religion really means!

And those who argue that employees should not join a union where political positions, arrived at in a democratic fashion, are counter to Catholic values, would have us be modern-day hermits. They would have us all back in provincial, parochial communities, uninvolved in the life of the world around us. The majority of the world is not Catholic and won’t become so if we are all self-segregating ourselves and our beliefs. And no, I don’t believe that we should be imposing our beliefs through law. It’s a cheap and easy way to avoid evangelization!

I blame USA bishops for the polarization that now exists in the USA Church. Their teachings over many years have been deliberately simplistic and rigid so as to promote a political agenda, not evangelization. How many Catholics have been lost for this lack of Christian compassion and mercy? I know too many friends who ignore the Church due to its apparent harshness and irrelevance to the lives of real people. We are NOT a church of the self-righteous but of sinners. Of course you’d never know it from some of the commenters here!

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 months ago

Vince G
You refer to people joining ..".....a union where political positions [are] arrived at in a democratic fashion...."
I refer you again to my questions above:
1) when was the last time that the Teachers Union (AFT) had anything resembling a membership vote on its non-economic political positions?
2) If the Teachers Union's purpose is the pursuit of "economic justice" why does it take and then support with its members' dues such obviously non economic issues as abortion, etc etc
3)What "democratic" organization other than a union requires membership as a legal precondition of gaining employment? I guess I naively think that union' s establishing itself as the final arbiter of one's ability to get a job as singularly undemocratic and in polar opposition to the concept of economic justice.

I suggest that the honest answers to all of the above questions are related. Unions cross endorse other groups political positions to gain greater political leverage for their respective goals. ....and ..in the union case the primary goal is obtaining "closed shop" state laws. The conflation of "economic justice" with other social issues is a clear strategy of these varied interests groups. Just a simple review of the Special Interest Groups in the Democrat Party demonstrates this fact.

So in the case of the Teachers Union , if I want a job, then I MUST JOIN THE UNION" .
When in fact that Union supports and uses my dues money to support issues like abortion on demand etc, etc , then I am forced in fact to support these positions as well . You accuse The Church of promoting a "political agenda" but I think you "are missing the mote in your own union eye" There is no economic justification for Unions to conflate "economic justice" with its taking positions on other social issues. There is categorically no justification in making this package of issues a precondition of being employed. When the unions lose the cover of the closed shop laws , then as in Wisconsin true democracy prevails: Union membership declined by over 40% in Wisconsin.

You decry "the imposition of our beliefs through law" but you do exactly that when Union membership is required by law to obtain employment AND integral to such union membership is support for fixed social positions contrary to catholic values .

You oppose ""self segregating ourselves and our beliefs" , yet the essence of a Union is just such self segregation ....."the closed shop" has become the new holy grail" for just such self segregation.

Katherine S
1 month 4 weeks ago

The AFT is a democratic organization. That is guaranteed by the Landrum-Griffen Act. The elected delegates to the national convention vote on resolutions.

David Cruz-Uribe, OFS
2 months 1 week ago

I think, in evaluating the role of unions and their advocacy for political issues not directly related to workplace issues, we need to remember a couple things. First, in dealing with any secular institution we are going to have to make compromises. The US government does many things that are contrary to Church teaching, but only the most hardcore members of the Catholic Worker movement would advocate withdrawing all support and interaction with it. (I.e. do not vote, do not pay taxes, etc.) Instead, we deal with this fact on a day to day basis, making prudential decisions, working for change, cooperating with many parts of it. The same practices will inform union membership.
Second, union membership, like dealing with government, occurs on many levels. Most of the time a union member only deals with his/her local, on issues related to the workplace. Their connection to the regional or national is more limited. And yes, their dues will support the national, but in this regard, see my first point and compare them to taxes. Many years ago, when I was a member of the UAW, we used to argue in the local about this, with some of us wanting our local to focus on workplace issues, and a group of progressive members wanting the local to also serve as springboard for social justice activism. We never settled it, because in practice all our time was taken up fighting for recognition from our employer.
With regards to the case in question in the article. I did some digging about the Steelworkers, and while their national leadership makes some pro-choice noises ("the right of bodily autonomy" is mentioned in a statement on International Women's Day) I see no evidence that this is a major issue for the national union. I suspect that a candidate who was four square for economic issues important to the union but was pro-life could earn their endorsement. (I am thinking of Dennis Kucinich here.)
Finally, I really think we need to get back to the bottom of this: this is an effort by some of the most abused and marginalized employees in academia to improve their lot. They have heavy teaching loads, very low pay, and no job security. These are precisely the economic issues that Catholic Social Teaching highlights as the role of a union.

Henry George
2 months 1 week ago

Having been an Adjunct at 4 Catholic Universities, three of them Jesuit,
it was an odd feeling to listen to the Jesuit President speak about
"Social Justice" when I was not being paid a Living Wage.

Students were being charged $ 3,000 for the courses I taught them.
There were 40 students in each Course.
I got paid $ 3,000 a course and was teaching 3 courses a Semester.
No Medical Benefits, no Job Security - I was hired Semester to Semester.
No salary increase no matter how long I taught there. $ 18,000 a year.
95% to the University, 5 % to the Professor doing all the teaching, grading,
preparing.... at rate of income distribution that led George Harrison to
write the song "Taxman" about England's ruinous Tax policies in the mid
1960's.

Very difficult to understand how the University could charge the 40 students a total of $ 120,000 and could not find enough money to pay the
Adjunct Professor 1/20th of the Tuition costs of the course. That would have paid the Adjuncts $ 36,000 a year instead of $ 18,000 a year.

The Jesuit President gave and end of the year talk to the Faculty and again spoke about Social Justice. I stood up, having already been hired at a
different University, no brave soul was I, and said:

Excuse me, please do not say another word about Social Justice until
the Adjuncts are paid a living wage. How can you expect anyone to live
on a maximum of $ 18,000 a year ? While you live in the Jesuit Residences, have three meals provided for you daily, have a room of your
own, a University car and driver and 100% Medical Care for Life...

You are worse than the Pharisees who take the Widows money...

Shame, Shame, Shame on any Catholic University that treats workers
so poorly.

Kidz Kul
1 month 2 weeks ago

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