NAICU Washington Update

NLRB Rules that Independent College Must Negotiate With Union on Credit Hour Changes

April 06, 2016

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled on March 24 that Columbia College Chicago violated federal labor law when it did not negotiate with its adjunct faculty union before reducing the credit hours assigned to several courses.

The lawsuit dates to administrative changes made by Columbia College in 2010 to lower the number of credit hours associated with a dozen courses for the fall 2011 semester. Notably, Columbia College also increased the credit hour designations of several classes during the same semester. Citing the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiated between the administration and the Part-Time Faculty Union (P-FAC), Columbia College believed that it had the contractual authority to modify credit hours of course offerings without negotiating with P-FAC. The CBA offers broadly permissible managerial discretion to make changes to certain academic and curricular policies. However, because adjunct faculty wages are directly tied to the number of credit hours assigned to courses taught, the NLRB ruled that Columbia College acted inappropriately in refusing to negotiate with P-FAC over the changes made. According to the NLRB, such a decision went beyond managerial discretion and was not “inevitable,” thus triggering the negotiation requirements.

As a result, Columbia College has been sanctioned by the NLRB to take a number of steps to resolve the issue, including resuming negotiations with P-FAC, reimbursing affected faculty, and paying the union’s negotiating fees.

According to the dissent of NLRB Board Member Philip Miscimarra, the board’s decision requiring Columbia College to pay the negotiating fees of the union is particularly “inconsistent with board precedent,” and an “extraordinary remedy” given the facts of the case.

According to a statement from Columbia College, the institution is currently “exploring all of its options in the coming days, including an appeal to the federal courts” to challenge the decision by the NLRB.

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