SEIU Union Update: Hearings and Stubbornness

On Thursday, Feb. 27 Jerry Huffman, President of Seattle U’s Human Resources Department sent an email to all faculty addressing Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) call for a subpoena. Echoing the concerns addressed by Provost Crawford, Huffman argued that SEIU promotes confrontation. He criticized the National Labor Relations Board, saying that they infringe upon the university’s Jesuit tradition and he chided SEIU for diverting valuable resources from the university’s core
educational mission.

Adjunct philosophy instructor and SEIU member, Jerome Veith responded to Huffman’s allegations, calling them an “exaggeration.” He shared the sentiments of fellow SEIU member and adjunct political science instructor, Larry Cushnie who sees Huffman’s representation of SEIU’s subpoena demands as “disingenuous.”

When speaking specifically to administration’s reluctance to disclose the board members’ religious affiliations, Cushnie says, “This is based on their actions rather than ours.” He says that SEIU contingent faculty have previously stated that they “would be happy to remove this from NLRB jurisdiction and go with a non-governmental organization as an arbiter.”

What Cushnie is referring to is a letter that he and other SEIU contingents addressed specifically to President Sundborg on, Feb. 4. Read aloud to the president’s office in his absence, the letter spoke to administration’s decision to cite the university’s “religious character” as an exemption to NLRB jurisdiction.

This lettered provided Sundborg with two options: grant contingent faculty an election on the question of unionization through a private, non-governmental organization like the American Arbitration Association, or agree not to challenge the NLRB’s jurisdiction in an NLRB-supervised election.

Although SEIU asked for a response by Tuesday, February 11, administration never replied.
The university’s decision to cite their religious affiliation is claiming to be outside the jurisdiction of the NLRB, therefore federal jurisdiction. When invoking a religious exemption, the university is forced to provide evidence of the institution’s religious affiliation as its defining characteristic. SEIU’s subpoena calls for this evidence and its demands must be approved by the NLRB.

Cushnie is adamant when he says, “No one is challenging that Seattle U is not a religious institution. It’s that Jesuit tradition that is so rich in social justice that motivates a lot of us to teach here.

What we’re challenging is whether or not that affiliation is something that trumps jurisdiction of
the NLRB.”

He references Georgetown University’s decision not cite their religious affiliation as means for exemption from federal jurisdiction. Georgetown Provost Robert M. Groves declared university support for contingent’s union efforts on May 14 when she says, “As stated in Georgetown’s Just Employment Policy, the university respects employees’ rights to freely associate and organize, which includes voting for or against union representation without intimidation, unjust pressure, undue delay or hindrance in accordance with applicable law. We appreciate the participation of all of those voters who cast ballots in the election and we will respect the wishes of the majority vote.”

To cite a religious exemption, Seattle U must provide the religious affiliation of the university’s Board of Regents, Board of Trustee, Board of Members, President, Provost and Vice President. The university must also prove that the mission of the teaching has a predominant Catholic focus.

March 3 was the first of what looks to be a long line of hearings with the NLRB. Lasting nearly three hours, representatives from Seattle U administration and SEIU were ardent in their opposing perspectives. The NLRB hearing officer, struggled to maintain medium grounds and on what seemed to be every other of the sixty-nine points, the officer was forced to conclude that, “The parties will work to stipulate that point.”

University representatives perpetually reiterated, “We don’t see the relevance of providing that information.” SEIU met this resistance with comments like, “It is critical that we know.”

University representatives demanded that the hearing not be recorded and the event was not well attended, with a total of five spectators, the majority affiliated with SEIU.

Despite the meager turnout, concerned students are finding ways to show their support for contingent faculty. Last week an online petition originally sourced by SEIU was distributed via social networking and email, indicating the support of Seattle U current students and alumna. Student organizations like the Seattle U Anarchist Alternative provided The Spectator with a written statement of solidarity for contingent faculty.

Club member Josh Sturman speaks to the university’s response when he says, “It’s less than what I made working at Jimmy Johns making sandwiches. If we respect our teachers then we should be paying them at a market wage…We have a building named after Dorothy Day. She was a famous labor organizer. How can we name a building after a labor organizer and bust a union? That’s ridiculous.”

Allison Thompson, also dedicated to the cause says, “We learn so much about ideas like these in class but when there are issues like these that apply to the university there’s suddenly a double standard.”

The next hearing is Friday, March 7 where witnesses will be called and President Sundborg will be present.