The first of what may be several drives to organize adjunct faculty on Pittsburgh-area campuses received a boost Thursday with an announcement that instructors at Duquesne University had voted to join the United Steelworkers.
Duquesne, though, said it will seek to invalidate the election in which yes votes outnumbered no votes, 50 to 9. It argues that as a church-operated school it is exempt from the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board, which supervised the election and the counting of ballots Thursday.
Eighty-eight individuals who taught class in the spring and fall of 2011 were deemed eligible to cast ballots, though the results affect all 125 or so part-time, non-tenure-track faculty within Duquesne's McAnulty College & Graduate School of Liberal Arts.
The election took place in June, but the votes were impounded as the university pursued its jurisdictional appeal with the NLRB.
Last Friday, the NLRB ordered that the votes be counted since deciding the appeal would be necessary only if the Adjuncts Association of the United Steelworkers achieved the necessary majority vote.
In a statement, USW International President Leo W. Gerard called the outcome a "triumph of solidarity." The union said it believes the results, which still require NLRB certification, mean Duquesne has a moral obligation bargain with the union.
"We've won contracts for factory workers, nurses, flight attendants and lawyers. Now we're proud to support adjunct instructors in their fight for a fair contract," Mr. Gerard said. "We will continue to fight for them in the face of opposition from the [university] administration."
The union, without identifying schools by name, said it has held meetings with adjuncts on several Pittsburgh-area campuses interested in organizing, too.
Reacting to the vote, university spokeswoman Bridget Fare said, "Duquesne will be refiling [its] appeal with the NLRB and reasserting that we believe it does not have jurisdictional oversight."
She said the school had no further comment.
In March, the United Steelworkers announced the organizing drive. The union listed improving job security, pay levels and working conditions as its goals.
As the election approached, Duquesne filed its challenge to the NLRB's jurisdiction. The university cited a 1979 U.S. Supreme Court case, NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, as precedent.
The board rejected the motion, noting that the NLRB first asserted its jurisdiction over Duquesne in 1982 and that the university had not previously challenged it while dealing with other unions. The board also pointed to an agreement Duquesne signed with the Steelworkers to authorize the vote and said there was no justification to withdraw from that pact.
The university subsequently appealed.
Robin Sowards, an English instructor at Duquesne, said the vote tally is not the last word since the school continues to resist the drive, but he took comfort in the results themselves. "We didn't just win. Frankly, we triumphed by a landslide," he said.
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