Duquesne U. seeks religious exemption from organizing effort
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Duquesne University today moved to effectively block a union election by adjunct faculty by filing a motion claiming a religious exemption from National Labor Relations Board jurisdiction over campus labor matters.
The motion comes a week before those faculty members are to begin an election by mail ballot through the federal labor agency.
"Duquesne, founded and owned by the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, has concluded that as a Catholic institution it was necessary to take this action," Duquesne spokeswoman Bridget Fare said. "Other Catholic universities have filed similar challenges, some of which are presently under review."
In March, the United Steelworkers announced a plan to organize part-time, non-tenure-track faculty on the campus of nearly 10,000 students and said it could be the start of an effort to unionize adjuncts at other Pittsburgh campuses. The Steelworkers 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. Faculty organizers have formed a group called the Adjuncts Association of the United Steelworkers.
Daniel Kovalik, senior counsel for the Steelworkers, said the union is shocked by today'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.
Today'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."
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 these challenges to the NLRB's jurisdiction over Catholic institutions.
The university also cited precedent in its motion.
"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," the university's 16-page motion states.
First Published June 15, 2012 2:36 pm