Saint Xavier Faculty Rejects Tentative Contract Agreement

By a vote of 116 – 48 (71%-29%) the rank and file of the Faculty Affairs Committee, the union of full-time faculty and portion of full time faculty on September 20, 2013, voted down a tentative contract offered for ratification. While the contract was finalised last spring, it was not until Friday that the faculty finally had the opportunity to vote for or against ratification. Saint Xavier University has recently experienced a tumultuous relationship between the administration and various units such as part-time faculty and housekeepers (S.E.I.U.) seeking the right to organise. In this instance the organised union faculty rejected the proverbial “last offer” by the administration. The tentative contract would have granted a 1.5% salary increase over two years with hefty increases in many of the health-care premiums. It would have lowered the compensation for a year’s sabbatical from 75% to 60%. Other issues were also in play that dealt with workload compensation, overloads and course reductions. The faculty has not had a raise in about five years and economic suffering has propelled this rejection of the tentative contract.

The university due to its improved recruitment efforts and the quality of instruction has been enjoying some significant increase in its undergraduate enrollment. The total enrollment of undergraduates is higher by 89 students, 2932 v. 2843 in 2012. The total first-year, freshperson count is higher by 119 students: 594 now v. 475 in 2012. Saint Xavier previous record was 583 first-year students in the Fall of 2011. So it is doing quite well in enrollment. Graduate enrollment has declined but has not offset the record freshperson enrollment at the Chicago institution.

What is rather portentous is that the nearly thirty-five year old union, Faculty Affairs Committee, that was recognised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in 1979 as the exclusive bargaining unit for full-time faculty, had never witnessed a non-ratification of a proffered tentative contract. There were either a faculty willingness to make concessions such as a 50% reduction in their pension match or the administration’s willingness to improve faculty compensation in the interests of attracting top-flight educators and providing appropriate compensation for its community of scholars. Only recently has this decades-long comity been dramatically altered.

As is well known when the part-time faculty attempted to organise under the banner of the Illinois Education Association, the NLRB ruled that adjunct, part-time faculty were covered by the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. The university, hiding behind a “religious exemption,” claimed its Roman Catholic mission and affiliation allows it to be exempt from US labour law and can suppress or challenge additional organising activities on campus. Georgetown University, on the other hand, has asserted no such claim. Currently, the adjunct faculty and the administration are waiting for a decision from the national office of the NLRB in Washington, DC.

Two other Catholic institutions, Duquesne University and Manhattan College have also resisted organising efforts from its contingent, part-time faculty. All three institutions’ union-suppression crusades were reversed by a regional office of the NLRB that afforded recognition to part-time faculty. The three schools have appealed these regional NLRB director decisions to the national Washington, DC office of the NLRB. It is presumed the National Labor Relations Board will eventually rule in favour of the right to organise for part-time faculty at these post-secondary schools. Then the administration, here and elsewhere, will have to decide whether to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and seek again a denial of the right of part-time faculty to organise for a respectable remuneration and other employment benefits based upon per-course assignment.

Saint Xavier describes itself as military friendly. Despite being an absolute pacifist and opposed to all war and senseless killing and murder on a battlefield, I hope it will also proclaim itself to be a professor-friendly institution as well.

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