Duquesne University adjunct faculty members may have to wait longer to hear results of their vote on whether to unionize and affiliate with the United Steelworkers, pending action on an appeal by the university that could invalidate the whole process.
The regional office of the National Labor Relations Board is scheduled to tally the adjuncts’ mail ballots. But Robert Chester, director of the Pittsburgh office of the NLRB, said the ballots likely will be impounded pending a decision on Duquesne’s appeal to be exempted from NLRB jurisdiction on grounds of religious freedom.
On May 25, 2012 Duquesne officials agreed to have the agency supervise a union ballot. Three weeks later, they petitioned to withdraw from that agreement, claiming the school is a religious institution and exempt from NLRB oversight.
When the regional office of the NLRB denied that request, Duquesne officials filed an appeal known as a request for review with the national board in Washington. As of late Monday, the federal agency had not acted upon it.
“If we do not hear anything on the request for review, we will impound the ballots” and wait for a decision on the appeal, Chester said.
Despite the appeal, the agency has supervised a mail-in ballot that began June 22.
Duquesne spokeswoman Bridget Fare said the university had no news on the status of its appeal.
On Friday, the Association of Catholic Colleges filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the NLRB supporting Duquesne’s petition for review. The colleges have painted the dispute as one of religious freedom.
Duquesne adjuncts, who say they are seeking equity in pay, access to health care and job security, were confident that their colleagues would vote to certify an affiliation with the United Steelworkers of America.
“This is not a question that bears on the mission of the institution. This has nothing to do with whether it is a Catholic institution. It bears on questions of equity,” said Robin Sowards, an adjunct professor who has been active in the organizing effort.
Sowards said any delay in the count would be disappointing.
“Certainly, if the ballot is impounded, that is not the most favorable outcome. But we’ve talked with a lot of people and we’re confident once the ballots are counted we will win and we’ll prevail in any appeals. But we’d certainly prefer a count,” he said.