One of the most interesting stories of the year in labor relations at Catholic institutions has been the movement of adjunct faculty to organize in unions. Last month Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University adjunct faculty voted 50 to 9 in favor of forming a union affiliated with the United Steelworkers. Duquesne, like Manhattan College in New York and St. Xavier University in Chicago, has argued to the National Labor Relations Board that as a religious institution it is exempt from regulation under the Wagner Act, which grants the right to organize. Of course, Church social teaching also expressly defends the right to organize, and the adjuncts’ vote makes Duquesne’s position extremely awkward. The university must argue that it is religious enough to merit exemption from labor law but secular enough that it is not bound to honor “the repeated calls issued within the Church's social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers' associations that can defend their rights…” (Duquesne has not responded to requests for comment.)
Meanwhile, a fourth Catholic university – one you have probably heard of! - is witnessing an adjunct faculty organizing effort. Georgetown University adjuncts have established an organizing committee. The instructors are seeking to join SEIU Local 500, which represents adjunct faculty at nearby George Washington University and American University.