By ELIZABETH LANDRY
Unofficial organization Fordham Faculty United (FFU) has recently gone through the process of applying to form a union for non-tenure track faculty, and the Fordham administration’s rebuttal was uncompromising. After weeks of statements and correspondence, FFU continues to organize activism despite the fact that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has withdrawn their application to represent the adjuncts.
A major argument by FFU is that the school has grown increasingly dependent on non-tenure track faculty, who do not receive benefits of any sort. According to the Fordham Ram, “As of 2016, for a standard undergraduate course meeting for three hours per week, Fordham University is said to have a minimum pay of $3,900. Depending on the professor’s experience and credentials, that number can reach $5,000 per course.”
This is not an unusual pay for adjuncts, as according to the CUPA-HR 2017 Faculty and Department Heads in Higher Education Salary Survey adjunct faculty are typically paid $1,000 per credit hour. This report showed that on average, there are three adjunct faculty members for every four full-time faculty members. However, at Fordham adjuncts and contingent faculty make up a majority, and FFU argues that the the likelihood of being financially secure as an adjunct is close to nil.
On March 9, an FFU group with student solidarity marched to Fordham President Fr. Joseph M. McShane, S.J.’s office to inform him of their intent to unionize, though he declined to meet. Over the last few weeks, developments have rolled quickly toward public conflict between FFU and the Fordham administration. This article cites numerous emails which were provided by an adjunct professor and member of FFU on condition of anonymity.
On March 20, FFU filed a petition to hold a union election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). In an email within FFU, leadership wrote, “This is a big step towards joining our fellow contingent colleagues at the University of Chicago, Duke University, Georgetown and nearly 40 other schools who have come together under [SEIU Local 200United] over the past few years.”
The Georgetown case was a particularly bitter two-year struggle of organizing and bargaining that concluded in September 2014. Most Fordham peer institutions have seen faculty win NLRB cases in the last year or two, including Loyola University, Boston University and George Washington University.
The public letter of support on March 20 argued, “For contingent faculty, Fordham’s flexible hiring practices have led to unstable and inconsistent employment, a lack of benefits and financial insecurity. As a result, we have less time to prepare our courses, less time and resources to focus on students’ needs, and we’re prevented from playing a stronger role in our departments.” It also cited the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ definition of the rights of workers, which includes “the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages” and “to the organization and joining of unions.”
On March 22, the department of modern languages and literatures and the department of philosophy issued statements of solidarity with FFU’s push to unionize. “We join the adjunct faculty here and at other Jesuit colleges and universities to call for a just employment policy in conformity with a long history of Catholic social teaching that recognizes the right of workers to organize and form unions without employer interference or retaliation in order to negotiate fair and equitable wages and a safe and just work environment,” wrote philosophy department Chair John Drummond.
FFU received their answer when, on March 30, the Fordham administration sent their statement of position unequivocally reading that, “The NLRB has no, and/or should refrain from asserting, jurisdiction over Fordham University as a self-identified religious university,” and that “If the Regional Director directs an election and overrules the Employer’s arguments, only those who should be included within the unit are: non-tenure track, non-clinical, non-temporary or casual, part-time faculty who do not provide services in the Gabelli School of Business, Fordham University School of Law, or who do not provide service in the areas of Graduate Education and/or Graduate Social Service. Those eligible to vote would be those who held an appointment in both the Spring 2017 and Fall 2016, and who taught two (2) courses per semester.”
It cited the Pacific Lutheran University NLRB 2015 decision, calling the ruling incorrect, in which “the NLRB rejected the school’s claims that its full-time, non-tenure track faculty members are managerial employees and thus are not entitled to collective bargaining,” according to InsideHigherEd.
The question of the role of religious education was also a key point. The Pacific Lutheran decision set the standard that a religious college would need to show that “it holds out the petitioned-for faculty members as performing a religious function” in order to prevent its faculty from unionizing. “[The listed-as-inapplicable] faculty share an overwhelming community of interest with the petitioned-for unit – to wit, the provision of a Jesuit Catholic education to students pursuing higher learning,” the administration statement read. “The strength of this community of interest in imparting a Jesuit Catholic education to Fordham’s students is further evidence of the impropriety of the NLRB exerting state power over Fordham’s religious freedoms.”
In reaction to the position, an email within FFU on March 30 called the administration’s position “shameful and hypocritical.” “[Fordham’s] actions have indicated that going through the NLRB process would likely mean a lengthy and uncertain legal battle,” the email said. “Instead of being caught up in a legal fight, we believe it is in our best interest to go another route and begin a robust public campaign to recognize our union and win a real voice.”
On April 3, the SEIU voluntarily withdrew their petition to represent Fordham faculty, and an order for a petition for decertification was filed, which institutes a vote to dissolve the intended union.
Two days later, an email to the Fordham community disseminated by FFU members launched the new public campaign. “We are appalled that Father McShane and the Fordham administration would so flagrantly disregard Jesuit values of economic justice and equality and block contingent faculty in their efforts to attain a basic standard of living,” it said.
At the rally FFU held on April 8 at Fordham at Lincoln Center, speakers showed they intended to appeal the decision with another application to unionize, but emphasized their need for strong community advocacy. “By the time the case goes to the court system, the National Labor Relations Board will be stacked with reactionary judges appointed by Fordham’s new favorite alumnus, Donald J. Trump,” lamented adjunct professor Alessandro King of Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH) in front of a crowd.