Unionization hinges on disputed ballots

Just one week before Election Day, GW has its own voting dispute complete with a narrow majority and disputed ballots.

In a process that will transpire in the next few weeks, a 12-person majority of part-time faculty who voted in favor of forming a union may be reversed by the inclusion of about 50 contested ballots.

On Friday, the National Labor Relations Board took a count of the more than 600 votes cast in a mail-ballot election held from Oct. 4-19 that was open to all part-time professors who had taught at least one course in two of the last four semesters, excluding summer sessions.

Of the 644 ballots tallied so far, professors voted in favor of unionization by a 12-vote margin, with 328 voting for the union and 316 voting against. Due to questions about submission deadlines and eligibility of some ballots, about 50 remain uncounted and could reverse a successful unionization effort in the works for three years.

Part-time professors have been working toward unionization with the Service Employees International Union Local 500 as a way to secure better wages and benefits. The University has consistently opposed the effort, saying they prefer to negotiate faculty contracts without third party involvement. A GW part-time professors’ union, which would be the second of its kind nationwide, would also hamper the University’s ability to schedule classes and make hiring decisions, administrators have said.

Prior to tally of the vote late Friday afternoon, the SEIU Local 500 questioned the validity of 50 ballots, said Kip Lornell, an adjunct professor of Africana studies and member of the GW union organizing committee.

The contested ballots remain in sealed envelopes, and until the issue is resolved, the union cannot be certified.

Of the contested ballots, the union claims that 22 were submitted by full-time faculty and University administrators, who were ineligible to vote. The other 28, they said, were either postmarked past the Oct. 19 deadline or sent by professors who were not on the official eligibility list submitted by the University despite meeting the stated requirements. Approximately 1,030 professors were eligible to vote.

In a statement released Saturday, the University countered that 37 of the ballots under review were submitted on time by eligible voters, while the remaining 13 were cast by ineligible voters and should be discarded.

The SEIU Local 500 will have until Oct. 29 to submit a formal challenge to each questionable ballot to the National Relations Labor Board and would then present evidence for their claims in a Nov. 5 hearing.

Regardless of whether the challenges are successful, Lornell said that based on the names of the voters whose ballots are under scrutiny, he believed the vote will favor unionization by a narrow margin.

“It’s going to be close, but I think we will come out ahead,” Lornell said. “I think the final vote count may change, but I don’t think the actual outcome of the vote will change.”

For their part, University officials also said they believed the vote would turn out in their favor, but added that it was impossible to know exactly how the process will play out.

“We’re optimistic, but we’re not oracles,” said Tracy Schario, director of GW Media Relations. “It’s hard to predict what the final outcome after the challenges will be.”

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