Duquesne University professors say yes to a union

PITTSBURGH – By a 50-9 margin, adjunct professors at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, a prominent Catholic institution, voted to unionize with the Steelworkers. But the struggle isn’t over yet.

That’s because the university will appeal the ruling, continuing to argue that the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion, allows religiously affiliated institutions complete leeway in their labor practices, without any government role at all. It cites a 1979 ruling involving archdiocesan schools in Chicago.

The votes were counted on Sept. 21, though they were cast in June. The National Labor Relations Board, the week before, ordered the counting, saying the case could go forward only if the union won the balloting among the adjuncts. 88 adjuncts were eligible to cast ballots, but the election covers 125 positions.

Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said the vote should tell Duquesne to recognize and bargain with the union. “We’ve won contracts for factory workers, nurses, flight attendants, and lawyers. Now we’re proud to support adjunct instructors in their fight for a fair contract,” Gerard said. “We will continue to fight for them in the face of opposition from the administration.”

Pay and working conditions are key issues in the organizing drive. In a prior open letter, even university President Charles Dougherty said, “There are no university pay scales” for the adjuncts.

Pay varies “by college and schools” and “by the role adjuncts play,” he said. “There are no benefits or long term securities associated with these positions due to their ad hoc and transitory nature. Only in the last several years have the numbers of adjuncts in the college increased significantly. At the same time, there appear to be a growing number of part-time faculty who seek to make a full-time living by taking on multiple part-time assignments, often spread among several universities.

“We are not unmindful of the teachings of the Catholic Church on labor. The church continues to support the right of working men and women to organize. Our history of positive relations with our existing unions is evidence of our appreciation of this fact. Nevertheless, we believe that, in the case of faculty who are central to the core of who and what we are, concerns for our religious mission are a higher priority. These concerns certainly are a higher priority than deference to the machinery of NLRB regulation.”

Photo: Bishop Richard Lennon participates in a mass in Cleveland, Ohio. Catholic universities that are anti-union violate the declarations of their own bishops.   Tony Dejak/AP


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.