As the result of an election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board in October 2004, GW’s part-time faculty voted to have Service Employees International Union Local 500 represent adjuncts in collective bargaining with the University. Following the election, GW’s administration challenged the vote’s validity and thus the outcome – charges that were found not to have merit at several levels of NLRB review. In January 2006, the University appealed the NLRB decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which heard oral arguments on Nov. 17, 2006, and ruled against GW last week.
What, exactly, is GW’s concern with the validity of the election? Hatchet reporter Nathan Grossman accurately summarized the University’s current position in his Nov. 20, 2006 article “Court of Appeals hears GW case against part-time professors union” (p. 1). He wrote that “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.” Essentially, the administrations position is that some 30 part-time faculty members were disenfranchised and that their votes hold the potential to change the outcome of the election.
Let me point the bright light of facts and truth upon the University’s position. Based on its personnel files, GW supplied the list of eligible voters to the NLRB. The board, in turn, sent ballots to everyone on the University-supplied list. At a spring 2005 NLRB challenge hearing, GW strongly argued that the 30 “independent contractors,” two of whom actually voted in the election, should not be eligible to vote, as GW did not consider them to be employees of the University.
When that argument failed, GW switched sides and began arguing that all of these “independent contractors” should be allowed to vote, a belief that administrators still profess today. This flip-flop and new stance could easily be fodder for either “The Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report.” Because the University supplied the list of part-time faculty eligible to vote, GW itself would be the only party able to disenfranchise these teachers.
Furthermore, University officials repeatedly urged potential voters to exercise their right to cast their ballot. Not only did the administration carefully comply with the NLRB mandate to place large notices throughout the campus for several weeks prior to the election, but Vice President for Academic Affairs Don Lehman’s office also sent no less than two letters and a series of e-mails to all of the University’s part-time faculty reminding them of the election. The University’s information related to unionization, including its notices about the vote, can be found at www.gwu.edu/~newsctr/newscenter/unionization/home.cfm.
The numerous public notices and announcements also stated that anyone who believed that they were eligible to vote, but who did not receive a ballot, could call the NLRB and ask for one. Their eligibility to vote would then be determined if they returned the ballot to the NLRB. This information was posted on large signs across the entire campus and could also be found on the University’s unionization “FAQ” page at www.gwu.edu/~newsctr/newscenter/unionization/faqs.cfm.
The fact remains that no part-time faculty member was disenfranchised in this election, as no one was denied the right to obtain a ballot. Only those who ignored repeated admonitions by the NRLB, SEIU Local 500 and GW and chose not to pursue their right to vote did not participate in the election.
For unknowable reasons, the approximately 30 faculty members mentioned by the University in court did not request ballots, meaning than the NLRB could not establish their eligibility and, therefore, potentially count their votes. Once you understand the truth underpinning the University’s contentions, these charges of disenfranchisement – the only grounds upon which administrators are trying to overturn the election – appear spurious at the very least and disingenuous at best.
-The writer is a part-time professor of music and supporter of the part-time faculty unionization effort.