NAICU Washington Update

RA Unionization Vote at GWU Cancelled; NRLB Rules on Vanderbilt Non-Tenure Track Faculty

May 03, 2017

The Service Employees International Union Local 500 cancelled the vote for unionization for undergraduate resident assistants (RAs) at George Washington University just a day prior to the vote taking place. The Regional Director for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) who originally ordered the election also approved the union’s last minute request to withdraw its petition for an election.

The campus newspaper, The GW Hatchet, quoted a statement the union sent to the undergraduate RAs that cited the election’s timing, just before final exams, as the reason for the decision.  One of the student organizers for the union told the student newspaper that “the organizing committee was completely blindsided by this decision and is greatly disappointed that RAs will not be able to cast their votes.”

The newest twist in this case comes just weeks after the NLRB Regional Director in Baltimore ruled that undergraduate resident advisors at George Washington University are employees under federal law and are therefore eligible to form a union and bargain collectively.  He based his order on the NLRB’s decision regarding Columbia University, issued last August.  Although the Columbia case dealt primarily with a proposed union for graduate students, the proposed bargaining unit at Columbia included some undergraduate assistants.  The Board’s ruling explicitly recognized the eligibility of undergraduates to be part of a union.  

The decision regarding resident advisors at George Washington broke new ground. This was the first time a proposed union made up entirely of undergraduates had been recognized by the NLRB.  The possibility of unionization of undergraduates had been raised by the effort to organize football players at Northwestern University, but the NLRB chose not to recognize that union for other policy reasons.

NAICU had joined a dozen other higher education associations in an amicus brief in the George Washington case, arguing against recognition of an undergraduate resident advisor union.

Non-tenure-track faculty at Vanderbilt eligible to form separate collective-bargaining units 

Another recent decision, this time issued by the NLRB Regional Director in Atlanta, has also presented new issues in academic labor-employer relations.  The SEIU petitioned to create a union at Vanderbilt University representing all non-tenure track faculty in five of the university’s ten schools:  Arts and Science, School of Music, College of Education, the Divinity School, and the Graduate School.  Faculty in Medicine, Nursing, Law, Engineering, and the Graduate School of Management were not included in the proposed union.

The first issue facing the NLRB was the inclusion of non-tenure track faculty who taught on full time contracts.  Applying the logic of the NLRB’s decision in the 2014 Pacific Lutheran case, the Regional Director found that, despite their eligibility to serve on some college and university committees, those faculty were not “managers,” and were therefore eligible to participate in collective bargaining.

In another finding, the Regional Director rejected the proposed bargaining unit including faculty from five different schools, and instead approved separate union elections for unions in four of the schools (the Graduate School was not included because it was found that no faculty were exclusively based there).  The Regional Director found that non-tenure track faculty in the proposed five-school unit did not have “a sufficient community of interest.”  The Regional Director has instead ordered four separate union elections in the Schools of Arts and Science, Music, Education, and Divinity.  The Divinity School unit will be unusually small, with only 25 faculty eligible to vote in the unionization election.  Those elections, to be conducted by mail ballot, are to conclude June 6, 2017.

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