WEB UPDATE: Union organizers say GW administrators trying to undermine vote

Posted Friday, July 8, 7:00 p.m. Part-time faculty union organizers leveled an unfair labor practice charge against the University July 1, the day after administration officials said they refused to recognize a collective bargaining group. Part-time professors narrowly voted to unionize in October.

On May 6, the National Labor Relations Board concluded that adjunct faculty voters approved a union in the October vote, 341 to 331. The board’s decision was thought to have capped eight months of discussion between University officials and union supporters over 50 disputed ballots. GW officials have opposed the formation of a union, though they encouraged all professors eligible to vote to cast ballots.

Last week, GW said they refused to recognize the union because two part-time faculty members in the Law School who were hired by an outside firm to work at the University were allowed to vote. Officials are arguing that an additional 30 such workers should be allowed to voice their opinion on a collective bargaining group.

The two part-time professors were initially excluded from the October vote since GW does not pay their salaries, but Law School adjunct professors petitioned the NLRB to allow them to participate in the vote. The board deemed their ballots eligible; it is not known how they voted.

“We at the University believe strongly that these other individuals should have an equal opportunity to cast their ballots,” Donald Lehman, executive vice president for Academic Affairs, said last week.

All “supplier” employees – those hired by third-party organizations to work for the University – should be able to cast ballots, Lehman added. Even though Lehman emphasized that the University wanted to ensure all eligible part-time professors are able to vote, he said he didn’t know if GW would be calling for the inclusion of “supplier” employees if the vote went the other way.

Some would-be members of the Service Employees International Union Local 500 said GW is employing an obstructionist tactic aimed at preventing the SEIU from acting as the legal representative of GW’s part-time faculty.

After filing a charge of unfair labor practice against the University with the NLRB, union members said they hope to force GW to engage in collective bargaining. The board now must decide whether GW is not following employment regulations by refusing to recognize the union. NLRB representatives said the University might seek to challenge the board’s certification in U.S. courts, allowing for possible judicial review of the NLRB’s decision.

“We are going to expose George Washington University’s attempt to deny its employees union representation to the public,” Lewie Anderson, director of the SEIU Local 500 Representation Programs Department, said in a news release July 1. “Make no mistake about what’s really behind GW’s action.”

University officials said a comprehensive list of eligible voters was agreed upon between union supporters and the administration before the October election, a list that totaled about 1,200 professors and did not include any supplier employees.

Tracy Schario, the University’s director of media relations, said that “after much soul searching,” administrators, including President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, “came to the difficult decision that a big group of suppliers were disenfranchised, and that (the October vote) was not a full and fair election.”

But SEIU members said that by not recognizing the certified union, the University is acting illegitimately.

“The election is over and (GW) is just blowing smoke,” said Kip Lornell, lead union organizer and professor of Africana studies. “(The University) is basically saying the NLRB is wrong and they’re not going to abide by their rules.”

“They don’t want to bargain in good faith,” he added.

Schario said that GW is not “anti-union” and already has three collective bargaining groups on campus. She characterized the adjunct unionization movement as a “complex issue.”

“Our part-time faculty members are really a quite diverse group of individuals.” Schario said.

Robert Penney, an assistant professor of sociology who specializes in unions and working-class collective activity, said that in a time where the University is becoming increasingly business-oriented, it is less willing to share decision-making power with its employees.

“GW will argue the need for flexibility in which to control who’s working at the University or to offer an array of classes, but I don’t buy that,” said Penney, a tenured professor who could not participate in the union vote.

“It comes down to power – who gets to make decisions,” he added. “The University wants to have universal control in that process.”

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.