Union rallies take Capitol Hill on Thursday
By: Capitol Hill Times Staff April 14, 2016
Backed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Seattle University adjunct faculty, students and their supporters, including UFCW 21 members that marched to the campus from Cal Anderson Park, rallied to demand the Jesuit Catholic educational institution provide better pay, job security and the right to unionize. Many also participated in a daylong fast as part of the protest.
“What we are seeing here today is quite extraordinary,” District 3 Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who is also a former Seattle U adjunct, told the Capitol Hill Times. “What we’re seeing is a moment in history where employees from all sectors are coming together to support each other.”
District 3 Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant speaks during a rally at Seattle University.
Seattle U adjuncts voted in summer 2014 whether to unionize, but then the university appealed the election to the National Labor Relations Board under the argument it should be exempt from the NLRB as a religious institution. This caused the ballots to be impounded and not counted.
“The issue is not whether employees may unionize — a handful of unions already represent workers at SU,” according to a statement issued Thursday by Seattle U. “Rather, the issue is whether the government should have influence or control over the Jesuit Catholic educational mission of Seattle University, whose faculty is central to carrying it out.”
The release disputes claims by the SEIU that Seattle U’s teaching force is mostly low-paid, part-time workers, breaking down its 2015 fall quarter as being 68 percent full-time faculty, 65 percent of which are tenured, and 32 percent part time.
Since the institutions appeal to the NLRB, the board has changed its procedures to allow votes to be counted prior to a request for review, but that was not applied retroactively to pending cases.
“(Seattle U president) Father (Stephen) Sundborg has long held that his decision is based on what he believes is in the long-term best interest of the university and its Jesuit Catholic character” the release states, regarding the NLRB appeal. “He has also indicated that he is as interested as anyone in seeing the votes counted.”
Seattle U film studies instructor Ben Stork said the university calls itself a “social justice university,” but accused it of treating students like customers and faculty as a burden.
“I have a voice that should join with all the other voices,” he said, and he hopes Seattle U recognizes them.
Beyond higher wages, job security and the right to unionize, Sawant told a crowd outside the Seattle U campus on Thursday the institution should treat adjunct faculty with dignity and respect as “working people and as educators.”
“The university continues to bully professors from forming a union and, to date, to date, the NLRB ballots for Seattle University faculty have still not been counted,” Sawant said during her rally speech. “We demand that Seattle U count the ballots. We demand that Seattle U respect faculty rights to collective bargaining and issue a halt to the corporatization to education here and elsewhere.”
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