NLRB approves Duquesne University union election

Religious exemption for institution denied

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The National Labor Relations Board in Pittsburgh Monday denied a religious exemption sought by Duquesne University to the board's campus jurisdiction, a decision that clears the way for a scheduled union election by adjunct faculty starting Friday.

The Catholic university had asserted in a motion filed on Friday that it qualified for the exemption as a church-operated school. It cited a 1979 U.S. Supreme Court case, NLRB vs. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, as precedent.

But the board's two-page decision late Monday afternoon said subsequent to that case, the NLRB in 1982 asserted its jurisdiction over Duquesne, something the school in dealings with other campus unions had never challenged.

It also pointed to an agreement Duquesne signed three weeks earlier with the United Steelworkers to authorize Friday's two-week election. There is a well-established rule that a party cannot withdraw from an agreed-to election except for unusual circumstances, and Duquesne's motion Friday "does not establish there are any relevant changed circumstances," said the decision signed by acting NLRB regional director Mark Wirick.

"The United Steelworkers is very pleased with this decision as this is the right outcome under well-established board law," said Daniel Kovalik, Steelworkers senior counsel. "It is also the right decision because Duquesne must be made to live up to its contractual agreements."

Bridget Fare, a Duquesne spokeswoman, said the university is examining Monday's decision "and we will be determining our next step."

In March, the United Steelworkers announced an organizing drive covering 124 part-time, nontenure-track faculty within Duquesne's McAnulty College & Graduate School of Liberal Arts. The union listed improving job security, pay levels and working conditions as its goals.

In May, Duquesne turned down a union request to voluntarily recognize it and instead agreed to a mail ballot on campus set to run through July 9.

The United Steelworkers said Duquesne, in effect, was going back on a signed agreement and hiding behind church status to deny workers the right to unionize. Mr. Kovalik said Duquesne's motion was "not about God or religion, but about Mammon. It is about the company's desire to have the unfettered right, not to practice religion, but to pay its adjunct professors substandard wages without benefits and without job security."

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Bill Schackner: 412-263-1977 or bschackner@post-gazette.com. First Published June 19, 2012 12:00 AM


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