Fordham University contingent faculty have learned university officials plan legal maneuvers to delay a fair vote and derail any good faith effort to bargain with the resulting union. Faculty have responded that they will launch a public campaign, backed by the Catholic Tradition and with community support, to win an alternative path to their union.
Hannah Jopling, Adjunct Professor in Anthropology and Sociology said: “Fordham’s effort to stonewall our union through the National Labor Relations Board process, rather than listen to its non-tenure track faculty, is insulting to more than half of the teaching staff at Fordham. The administration’s position is also shameful and hypocritical because it contradicts the stated values of the Jesuit tradition and Fordham’s own labor practices.”
For over a year, non-tenure track faculty at Fordham University have built public support for a united voice for their future. In reaction to Fordham’s attempt to prevent a vote, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “I believe deeply in workers’ right to self-determination – to choose freely whether or not to unionize. I value the contributions Fordham University makes to our city as an institution of higher learning and an economic engine. The non-tenure track faculty makes up more than half of the teaching staff at Fordham and help ensure that the university continues to be a dynamic and innovative institution. I encourage Fordham’s administration to agree to a fair process in a timely manner that allows for the non-tenure track faculty to vote on whether or not to join a union, and be given the same opportunity for unionization as many other employees and faculty at Fordham.”
While Jesuit educational institutions strive to promote social justice, the everyday reality is that many Jesuit colleges and universities have moved toward corporatization and a dramatic shift away from investment in educators and affordable, accessible college education. Despite a 75 percent increase in tuition and fees since 2005, a majority of Fordham’s professors are forced to work part-time for low pay and the percentage of expenses devoted to instruction has declined to 38 percent.
Since 2013, faculty at more than a dozen Jesuit and Catholic-affiliated colleges have formed a union with SEIU. Many Catholic and Jesuit universities have remained neutral in union elections and successfully bargained with faculty. Instead of following established Jesuit principles, Fordham university has taken a page from anti-union schools like Seattle University that inevitably pits the university community against administrative efforts to undermine the faculty’s right to a union.
It appears contingent faculty are unfairly being singled out by the administration. Fordham regularly bargains with clinical non-tenure track faculty and tenure-track and tenured faculty in the law school. Service and maintenance workers, clerical employees and security guards also have union contracts. Zephyr Teachout is an Associate Professor of Law at Fordham. She said, “I’m disheartened by the administration’s decision to fight our colleagues’ union effort. Faculty in the Law School have been bargaining for decades with Fordham after an NLRB vote. A lengthy and uncertain legal battle isn’t in the University’s interest and we stand with non-tenured faculty as they pursue any route available to a collective voice.”
Fordham student Sapphira Lurie said, “The Fordham community has rallied behind Fordham Faculty United because we respect their right to work together for a better life. The administration never raised any concerns or worries about its Catholic identity before but if that’s really their concern, we will hold our university accountable to the Catholic Tradition. If the NLRB process is the problem, we demand that university officials find another way to honor our values and respect workers’ collective voice in their working conditions.”
Despite the administration’s sudden roadblocks, Fordham Faculty United are moving forward, and toward a free and fair election and unionization. SEIU members have worked with Catholic employers in other industries to conduct binding union elections outside the National Labor Relations Board process. Alessandro King, an adjunct instructor in English said, “Instead of being caught up in a legal fight, we believe it is in our best interest to go another route to recognize our union and win a real voice. The Fordham community, both in New York and around the world, has proven that they will stand with us. Fordham faculty are united — not for a specific process — but for an outcome that our students and colleagues deserve.”