NAICU Washington Update

Court Rules Against Adjunct Union at Religious University

January 31, 2020

In a decision that has broad implications for religious institutions of higher education, a divided Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ruled that Duquesne University, a Catholic institution in Pittsburgh, is not subject to the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). If the ruling is upheld, Duquesne will be exempt from complying with the NLRB’s rules governing the formation of adjunct unions.
Litigation in the case began when Duquesne refused to recognize a union formed by adjunct faculty at the university, citing NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, a First Amendment case. In that decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the NLRB does not have jurisdiction over instructors in schools that have a religious affiliation. The NLRB, however, argued that adjunct faculty at Duquesne did not perform a religious role at the university and were therefore governed by rules set forth in the NLRB’s ruling in Pacific Lutheran University.
Rejecting the NLRB’s position, the appellate court ruled that it is the religious character of the educational institution, not the role the faculty plays in furthering that religious mission, that determines whether the NLRB can exercise jurisdiction. To rule otherwise, noted the court, would allow the NLRB to impermissibly intrude into religious matters.

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