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Duquesne Adjuncts Win NLRB Appeal, Continue with Unionization Effort

The continuing effort of Duquesne University adjunct professors to form a union got another boost this week.

The National Labor Relations Board denied Duquesne’s appeal opposing the effort; the university had asked for a religious exemption. But a similar case at Pacific Lutheran University set new criteria for qualifying as a religious institution.

United Steelworkers Organizer and Adjunct Professor at Duquesne, Robin Sowards, said the school doesn’t qualify, in part, because many professors don’t teach religious content.

“I teach a linguistics course at Duquesne and I teach a linguistics course at Chatham, and they’re exactly the same course,” said Sowards. “There’s no difference at all, there’s not a special Catholic version of it, and that’s the case with virtually everyone.”

The adjunct faculty in Duquesne’s McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts held an election in 2012, with 85 percent of the vote coming in in favor of the union. But Duquesne claimed a religious exemption. Now, the regional office of the NLRB in Pittsburgh will make a decision, and since the initial decision denying the exemption was theirs, Sowards said USW organizers expect it will be upheld.

“Once the region rejects the administration’s appeal, we would communicate with the administration and request to bargain,” he said. “If they wanted to abide by the law, they would then agree to bargain, we’d arrange dates and get into working on a contract.”

Sowards said organizing the adjuncts is critical as universities rely more on the part timers.

“It used to be that 60 to 80 percent of the faculty nationwide were full-time, tenure-stream faculty, full-time positions,” he said. “Now it’s 24 percent. The vast majority of people are on one or another kind of contingent contract and more than half are on these specifically part-time contingent contracts.”

Because of limits on how many classes can be taught, adjunct professors have a hard time making a living teaching, according to Sowards. The Adjunct Faculty Association is actively organizing at other schools in Pittsburgh including Robert Morris University, where an election is scheduled for next month and Point Park University which is currently in contract negotiations with adjuncts.