Court of Appeals hears GW case against part-time professors union

The University’s appeal to prevent the creation of an adjunct professor’s union was heard by a three-judge U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. Friday.

The University is appealing a vote by the faculty to create the union, arguing that some faculty members were not given an opportunity to participate in the 2004 vote. The National Labor Relations Board upheld the adjunct and part-time professors’ union in a unanimous decision last December, and the University petitioned the results shortly after.

“We continue to make our argument of disenfranchisement,” said Tracy Schario, GW’s Director of Media Relations. Schario added that the University hopes the panel will remand the case back to the National Labor Relations Board for further review.

The University administration challenged the 10-vote victory in favor of the union on the grounds that nearly 30 independent contractors who were within the prospective scope of the union did not know of the election. The election took place last October, and more than 800 adjunct professors and part-time faculty voted on the creation of a union in conjunction with the Service Employees International Union Local 500.

“(The legal battle) is just a stalling tactic,” said Sean Carr, director of communication for SEIU Local 500. “The (National Labor Relations Board) said their objections were ‘without merit.’ The University should be spending money on education, not litigation.”

The NLRB is a federal agency responsible for enforcing the National Labor Relations Act. The board also regulates elections of employees debating unionization.

According to the Office of Institutional Research, there are 2,929 part-time professors out of a total of 4,478 professors this fall.

Ana Salper, who represented GW at the hearing, called the NLRB’s decision “arbitrary” and said the election should be thrown out on the grounds that the independent contractors were disenfranchised.

Senior attorney for the NLRB Richard Cohen argued that the election was completely legitimate.

“The only hook (the University) had was that the Board was wrong to say that they were employees and to toss out the results of the election,” he said. “That’s it. That’s the whole case.”

Gabriel Terrasa, an attorney representing the SEIU as the case’s intervener, spoke briefly and restated Cohen’s claim that the court cannot infer that the independent contractors were prevented from voting in any way.

Kip Lornell, an adjunct professor of music and one of the organizers of the union, said GW is opposed to unionization because it would give more strength to faculty positions. Unions can be used as tools for salary and benefit issues.

“It’s painfully clear that the University is opposed to any faculty union,” he said. “They would rather deal with professors on an individual basis so (the professors) are in a much weaker position.”

Schario defended the University position.

“It’s a very disparate group of people with different needs, and unionization places a one-size-fits-all classification on all faculty,” she said. “Some people would not be able to teach here because their full-time employer prevents them from joining a union.”

A verdict is not likely to be handed down for at least six weeks.

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