The Exorcists: At Duquesne U, Admins Use Religion to Fight Unionization

by P.D. Lesko

Moshe Z. Marvit is an adjunct at the Duquesne University School of Law. He has a piece posted to is which he writes about Duquesne University’s abrupt about face in response to adjunct faculty attempts to affiliate with the United Steelworkers. Faculty in the College of Liberal Arts voted for the United Steelworkers in the summer of 2012 and have been seeking recognition of the affiliate. Duquesne officials initially signed an election stipulation in which they agreed to abide by the outcomes of the NLRB election.

Marzit writes in his Oct. 28, 2015 piece that, “Duquesne University quickly and inexplicably changed tacks.”


Duquesne President Charles Dougherty flaunts Catholic teaching and fights adjunct union.

Duquesne’s President Charles J. Dougherty, who holds a doctorate in philosophy from Notre Dame, hired Arnold Perl, a Memphis-based attorney from the firm of Glanker Brown. Among Perl’s representational matters listed in his biography is, “Successful arguments before the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia which denied enforcement of Bargaining Orders issued by the National Labor Relations Board.”

In an Aug. 3, 2015 piece Marzit published about Duquesne’s refusal to recognize the adjunct union, he describes Perl as “indeed sophisticated in his labor practice. He has been involved in a variety of ‘union avoidance’ (often code for union busting) for decades, and until shortly after he became Duquesne’s counsel in May 2012, he bragged in his bio that he had ‘extensive experience counseling organizations on remaining union free.’ (In late 2012, he changed his bio to read that he has ‘extensive experience counseling organizations on positive employee relations.’)”

Over the past three years, Duquesne officials have argued that as a Catholic university it is not under the NLRB’s jurisdiction. The Catholic church, however,  has a favorable attitude toward labor unions and the rights of workers to organize that stretches back over 100 years.

For instance, in 1891 Pope Leo XIII wrote a groundbreaking encyclical, Rerum Novarum (“On the Condition of Labor”) which argued, among other things, that a worker had a right to a wage sufficient to support the worker and his or her family. The workers’ rights also extended, said Pope Leo, to reasonable hours, rest periods, health safeguards, and a decent work environment. Pope John Paul II in his encyclical on labor, Laborem Exercens (1981) asserted the fundamental principle of “the priority of labor over capital.” John Paul II insists that capital exists to serve labor: “There is a need for ever new movements of solidarity of the workers and with the workers…The Church is firmly committed to this cause, for it considers it to be its mission, its service, a proof of its fidelity to Christ…”

In Sept. 2015, Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich, the leader of the city’s Catholics threw himself into the political arena with what the State Journal-Register’s Bernard Schoenburg called “a ringing defense of the labor movement.” And not just labor generally—the right of both public and private sector workers to unionize, and specifically right-to-work laws.

In 2014, the group Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice issued a statement signed by eight past presidents of the Catholic Theological Society of America which called for “the Trustees at Manhattan College, Duquesne University, Loyola Marymount University, Saint Xavier University, and Seattle University to return to their Catholic tradition and to recognize the unions their adjunct faculty members have chosen for collective bargaining purposes. We call upon these Catholic affiliated institutions to immediately remove all legal impediments to the organizing drives and to allow their adjunct professors freedom of association that is rooted in the natural moral law. It is time for Manhattan, Duquesne, Loyola Marymount, Saint Xavier, and Seattle to stand for justice!”

Nonetheless, and despite pressure from Catholic leaders, church teaching and doctrine, in April 2015, in response to an NLRB decision that held Duquesne had to negotiate with the union the adjuncts voted to represent them, Duquesne filed a written appeal. The brief filed included this sentence: “Today, Duquesne reserves the right not to rehire both professors and replace them with professors willing and/or better able to incorporate Duquesne’s Catholic, Spiritan mission into their courses.”

It was not an empty threat. This week, Marvitz reports in his piece, “the adjunct professors at Duquesne University’s English Department received some unexpected news: there would be no classes for them. As a result, all but one of them will not be returning after they file this semester’s grades in six weeks. The one adjunct remaining will have one class, and he was only allowed to keep his class because he is involved with a freshman program called ‘learning communities.'”

At the same time President Dougherty has flaunted official church teaching on the importance of respecting labor and workers, his official biography says he has “emphasized sustainable growth in both its operations and its academic programs.  For nearly a decade, Duquesne has been ranked by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency among the top universities for green power usage.  All new construction and renovations have been designed to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards.” Tough on labor. Easy on the environment.

Duquesne U. English Department Chair Greg Barnhisel informed his 11 adjunct faculty of the cuts by email. He wrote that the “Provost’s office stressed in the strongest possible terms that [the budget cuts] should come as much as possible from a reduction in the budget for adjunct instructors, whose course stipends next year will increase to $4,000.” Barnhisel also forwarded the faculty a message from the Dean assuring them that only adjuncts would suffer under the budget cuts, stating “at this point, we will not seek reductions in other areas, such as salary increases, support for faculty travel, grant writing support and departmental budgets.”

United Steelworkers’s attorney Dan Kovalik said, “the English Department has been ground zero for the union campaign. The most active people have come out of English.” Every adjunct in the English Department signed a union card, and all of the adjuncts that have been publicly identified as union organizers taught in the English Department.

Dan Kovalik told writer Moshe Marvit, “There’s going to be a great human cost to the adjuncts losing their jobs in the spring and Duquesne can’t just walk away from these people and think they dispensed with their moral duties.”

Meanwhile, on President Dougherty’s official biography he stresses what he calls the “Duquesne difference: the Spiritan charism that, for more than three centuries, has recognized education as the key to liberation from poverty and injustice.” While it’s true that education may be the key to liberation from poverty and injustice for some, news of that Spiritan charism hasn’t  reached the ranks of Duquesne’s own adjuncts paid $4,000 per course—nor, one might argue, has the charism—defined as a good gift flowing from God’s love—reached the adjunct union leaders in Duquesne’s English Dept. recently fired from their jobs.

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