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Seattle U likely heading to court after refusing to bargain with faculty union

Students and faculty rallied on campus in support of a union in 2015. (Image: CHS)

Students and faculty rallied on campus in support of a union in 2015. (Image: CHS)

Seattle University may be heading to court after administrators formally refused to enter contract negotiations with a labor union newly representing adjunct faculty at the Capitol Hill college.

After organizing for nearly three years, SU’s non-tenured faculty voted in September to join Service Employees International Union 925. The university administration has opposed the union from the start, saying federally regulated contract bargaining would violate the college’s First Amendment protections of religious freedom. Administrators are specifically concerned about being required to hire faculty members that do not subscribe to its Jesuit style of teaching.

SEIU has filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board after SU recently notified the union it would not enter contract bargaining. The NLRB is reviewing the case, which may end up before a federal court. SU’s administration say they want a judge to review whether the NLRB has jurisdiction over a religious institution. The NLRB is a federal agency tasked with enforcing labor law.

In a recent video message sent out to faculty and students, SU president Father Stephen Sundborg said the administration was concerned the NLRB may force the university to hire people who are “openly hostile” to the college’s Jesuit way of teaching and Catholic identity.

“Simply put, NLRB jurisdiction could have a negative effect on our Jesuit Catholic identity and educational mission. This would have long-term consequences for Seattle University.”

Faculty members have pointed out that the university already follows many federal regulations and say the university’s opposition has more to do with compensating adjunct faculty.

In 2014, Seattle U faculty did vote on forming a union, but legal opposition from the university administration put the vote count on hold. The university lost several appeals with the NLRB in its claims for religious exemption, which eventually allowed the September vote to move forward.

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