Carving Out a Separate State

Confronted with a strong majority of adjunct faculty demanding union representation, the administration at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh is claiming the school’s faith should make it exempt from unionization.

The Catholic university argues that a Labor Board election would be impermissible government intervention in a religious institution. Its claims echo the fight over the Affordable Care Act’s birth control stipulations. Conservatives and Catholic institutions have attacked the law because it guarantees that health insurance plans are required to provide birth control at no out-of-pocket cost to women.

Duquesne Claims Religious Exemption to Escape Faculty Union,” Joshua Zelesnick

This is a very strange story that I think deserves more attention than it is getting. It’s difficult to understand exactly what Duquesne is trying to do by making this very odd appeal to the National Labor Relations Board. There’s nothing unusual about unions at the university; the administration apparently more or less happily coexists with four other unions.

So why is this union any different? There are a lot of universities, of course, who want to avoid an adjunct union because, they argue, a contract reduces administrative flexibility. Most people who watch these things– and are honest about it– know that administrations don’t like unionizing adjuncts mostly because it is or could be so much more costly.

Organized adjuncts ask for higher wages and benefits and before you know it they are just as expensive as full-time faculty. I think something else is going on too. I think that the Catholic church– and no doubt other churches as well– believe that the time is ripe for them to begin to try to flex their muscles and gain some independence from the state.

I doubt any good anti-labor lawyer is going to place a long-term bet based on what seems to be the increasingly less likely chance of a Republican sweep in the coming election. My guess is that the church wants to set up a legal challenge in the Supreme Court — a religious “Citizens United” ruling that could vastly expand their power.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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