Duquesne University seeks to block union vote

Adjunct faculty set to cast ballots

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Duquesne University called it unavoidable given its role as a church-operated school.

The United Steelworkers called it akin to union-busting.

Both assertions were made Friday as Duquesne moved to block a union election for adjunct faculty by filing a motion claiming a religious exemption from National Labor Relations Board jurisdiction over campus labor matters.

The filing comes a week before those faculty members are to begin an election-by-mail ballot through the federal labor agency. The union says it will oppose the university's move.

"Duquesne, founded and owned by the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, has concluded that as a Catholic institution it was necessary," Duquesne spokeswoman Bridget Fare said in explaining the motion filed before NLRB. "Other Catholic universities have filed similar challenges, some of which are presently under review."

In March, the United Steelworkers announced a plan to organize 124 part-time, non-tenure-track faculty on the campus and said it could be the start of an effort to unionize adjuncts at other Pittsburgh campuses. The union said the goal was to improve job security, pay levels and working conditions.

The election covers adjunct professors within Duquesne's McAnulty College & Graduate School of Liberal Arts.

Daniel Kovalik, senior counsel for the Steelworkers, said the union was shocked by Friday's filing, noting that senior campus administrators and their legal counsel three weeks ago agreed to the two-week election starting on June 22 after amicable discussions with the union. Friday's motion asks that Duquesne be allowed to withdraw from that agreement.

"Three weeks later they say, 'Oh, we forgot. We're Catholic,' " Mr. Kovalik said. "They are backing out of a deal that they made. That doesn't seem to be in keeping with the very principles they are trying to hide behind in order to avoid unionization.

"We think, frankly, they should be ashamed of themselves."

The NLRB said it expects to make a decision on the motion before the election date but declined further comment.

The union issue has surfaced recently at other Catholic schools.

Ms. Fare said the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, the Lasallian Association of College and University Presidents, and the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities have joined in filing an amicus brief with the NLRB in support of challenges by schools to the NLRB's jurisdiction over Catholic institutions.

Duquesne's motion cited court precedent: "The [NLRB] cannot exercise jurisdiction over Duquesne because Duquesne is a church-operated school as defined by the United States Supreme Court decision in NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago and its progeny."

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Bill Schackner: 412-263-1977. First Published June 16, 2012 12:00 AM


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