Dozens protest Duquesne University's opposition to union drive

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

Related Media:

Chanting "Shame, shame, shame," protesters urging Duquesne University to stop opposing a union drive by adjunct professors rallied Thursday outside the school's administration building, carrying 20,000 petition signatures and scorn for the school's stance.

About 100 people listened in the rain as speakers including clergy, union representatives and academics chastised the position maintained by the Catholic university.

"The pope recognizes unions, why won't Duquesne?" asked Joe Fahey, a professor of religious studies at Manhattan College in New York and chair of the nonprofit Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice.

In response, Bridget Fare, a Duquesne spokeswoman, said protesters' assertions do not change what the university sees as the fundamental principle.

"The core issue here is the university's right to religious freedom as guaranteed by the First Amendment," she said. "The petition is not cause for us to forgo that right."

The protest began about 10 a.m. as demonstrators marched along the university's main academic walkway, intent on delivering the petition to the school's president, Charles Dougherty. A delegation from the group was allowed into the building with the petition and met briefly with John Plante, vice president for university advancement.

Last year, instructors at Duquesne voted 50-9 to join the United Steelworkers.

Eighty-eight people teaching class in spring and fall 2011 were deemed eligible to vote, but the outcome covered about 125 part-time non-tenure-track faculty in the university's McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts.

Duquesne is appealing results of the election conducted under the supervision of the National Labor Relations Board. It contends the church-operated school is outside NLRB jursidiction.

During the protest, campus police kept the demonstrators across the street from the building. The crowd, many clad in yellow rain ponchos and carrying signs, chanted and applauded as speakers framed the issue as one of social justice.

"One thing the Catholic Church is real clear about [is] workers have a right to join a union," the Rev. Jack O'Malley, chaplain of the Allegheny Labor Council, said. "Workers have a right for good health care. Workers have the right to a living wage."

The Rev. Neil McCauley, a Catholic priest from the Diocese of Pittsburgh, said the school was "tap-dancing around the federal laws, looking for an excuse to avoid implementing their own doctrines.

"Where is the log jam? Is it the [university] president? Is it the head of the religious order? Is it the board of directors, whom I'm sure do not need food stamps," he told the crowd. "Is it some rich benefactor who's wielding his power and donations to stop a union?"

Some in the crowd noted that at one point Duquesne agreed to an NLRB-sanctioned election, only to later revise its position.

In response, Ms. Fare said other universities, including St. Xavier University in Chicago, also are challenging NLRB jurisdiction over faculty.

"The administration took another look at it and, under further review, learned that there were other schools in the same position," she said.

The drive at Duquesne was announced in March of last year amid plans by the Steelworkers to organize adjunct professors on campuses across the city. The union stated as its goals improving wages, job security and working conditions of the adjuncts, who are not tenure track and are hired course by course.

In September, an opinion piece written by a union representative about the death of a longtime adjunct instructor let go by Duquesne tapped anger nationally over conditions facing temporary campus instructors.

The university said the piece appearing on the editorial pages of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was misleading and exploitive, and that the school made multiple efforts to help Margaret Mary Vojtko, 83, who taught French at the university for 25 years, at one point offering to house her on campus.

In his piece, Daniel Kovalik, senior associate general counsel for the Steelworkers, said the woman was nearly homeless when she died after a heart attack in September.

Bill Schackner: or 412-263-1977. Twitter: @BschacknerPG

Bill Schackner: or 412-263-1977. Twitter: @BschacknerPG. First Published December 5, 2013 10:57 AM

Join the conversation:

Commenting policy | How to report abuse
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.
Commenting policy | How to report abuse


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?