New: President O'Brien Shares Position on Faculty Unionization

Questions Answered

The following is intended to provide the administration’s perspective on a range of frequently asked questions about Santa Clara’s commitment to adjunct faculty and lecturers and about unionization. It is important that all faculty are well-informed about these important topics, as the outcome of any union election will impact more than just those who voted.

Myths and Facts

Myth: The Union will raise my salary and benefits.

Fact: There are no guarantees. In fact, a recent review of other faculty collective bargaining agreements from colleges in the area show that our shared governance at Santa Clara drove wages and benefits that exceed what most others have achieved through collective bargaining. Union members must also pay monthly dues, typically to the tune of approximately 1.5% of a members salary. A union may collect special fees from its members, such as initiation fees, or assessments that may or may not have anything to do with the individuals’ workplace, may be incurred at any time.

Myth: Only through a union will my voice be heard.

Fact: If a union is voted in, the University will no longer be able to work directly with individual faculty members to address any of their concerns relating wages, benefits, course schedules, or others matters that could be considered a term or condition of employment.  The University will have to work through the union.

Myth: I don’t have to join the union, even if one is voted in.

Fact: If a union is voted in, it will represent all adjunct faculty and lecturers in the bargaining unit regardless of whether particular individuals actually want to or voted to  join the union. Once a union is voted in, it is very difficult to decertify if at a later date employees wish to no longer have a union.

Myth: An authorization card simply means I’m interested in learning more about a union.

Fact: Paid union organizers or interested faculty members may ask those in the potential bargaining unit to sign what is called an “authorization card.” While the wording sometimes varies, by signing the card the signer is usually agreeing to be represented exclusively by the union, whether the signer realizes it or not.

Myth: The SEIU would simply act as an advisor to the faculty.

Fact: If a union is certified, it becomes the sole and exclusive representative of all employees in the bargaining unit by law. That means the union will have the sole and full authority to bargain on behalf of the union members and enter into contracts regarding the terms and conditions of their employment. Rather than working collaboratively with the administration to address concerns in real-time, issues could be deferred until the next agreement is bargained, which typically happens every 3-5 years.

Myth: The University’s position is anti-Catholic.

Fact: Our position is wholly consistent with Catholic social teaching, which acknowledges unionization as one form of association – but not the only form. There are already functioning associations on campus representing adjunct faculty and lecturers such as the Faculty Affairs Committee and its subcommittee on lecturers and adjuncts, as well as the Lecturers Best Practices Task Force.  And while we deeply respect the rights of all workers, the proposed path by the organizing committee will serve to divide our community rather than unite it.

Myth: The University is prohibiting a free and fair vote on union representation.

Fact: This is untrue. We strongly believe that we are better working together. That being said, for over 80 years union elections and related matters have been resolved appropriately and fairly through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which enforces National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). That includes an effective election procedure and known standards that ensure the rights of all parties are fully protected. Despite these known and established procedures, which other Catholic Universities, including Loyola Marymount University, Seattle University, Loyola Chicago, Fordham, Dominican, St. Mary’s College, among others, have followed, the organizing committee is instead advocating for an ad-hoc in-house vote. This does not protect the parties’ rights, and would create significant concerns about privacy, dispute resolution, and rights to appeal, among other concerns. The process through the NLRB has been followed by workers on our campus, at other Jesuit institutions, and elsewhere for decades.

Myth: Many other Universities recognized an in-house vote.

Fact: We are aware of one recent case: when Georgetown’s graduate students (not faculty) held an in-house vote. Otherwise, universities such as Loyola Marymount University, Seattle University, Loyola Chicago, Fordham, Dominican, St. Mary’s College and many others have followed the NLRB election procedures.

Myth: The University can just sit down with the organizing committee and work this out.

Fact: The organizing committee is not a recognized participant in our collaborative governance system. The University instead is channeling its efforts into continuing the meaningful work already underway to address adjunct faculty and lecturers’ concerns, and collaborating with various faculty governance groups and committees already working on behalf of our adjunct faculty and lecturers.

University’s Position on Unionization

What is the administration’s position on unionization?

We already recognize the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) on campus through their representation of our grounds and maintenance employees, demonstrating our respect for workers’ rights to form a union through lawful means.

Catholic social teaching acknowledges unionization as one form of association by which employees may resolve concerns. But it is just one form. Adjunct faculty and lecturers are currently represented by other associations within our governance system, including the Faculty Affairs Committee and its subcommittee on lecturers and adjuncts, as well as the Lecturers Best Practices Task Force. Through these bodies, many meaningful solutions that have been proposed to address faculty concerns are either already implemented or soon will be implemented.

We believe we are better together, and are concerned that third party representation of a subset of our faculty will serve to further divide our community and stop the positive momentum underway to collaboratively address adjunct faculty and lecturer concerns. We all agree that meaningful solutions related to housing and compensation, career stability, and voice and respect must happen. We simply disagree on the most effective means to get there.

Why did the administration say no to a third-party vote?

We strongly believe that we are better working together than through a third-party. That being said, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) set up the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which has existed since 1935, to ensure union elections and related matters are resolved appropriately and fairly. Through the NLRA there is an effective election procedure and known standards that ensure the rights of all parties are fully protected. An ad-hoc in-house vote conducted by a third party does not protect the parties’ rights, and would create significant concerns about privacy, neutrality, dispute resolution, rights to appeal, among other concerns. The process through the NLRA has been followed by workers on our campus and elsewhere for decades. Conducting a vote outside of the NLRA in effect would create two classes of represented employees. We do not support that.

Is the administration open to reconsidering this decision?
We are channeling our efforts into continuing the meaningful work already underway to address adjunct faculty and lecturers’ concerns, and collaborating with various faculty governance groups and committees already working on behalf of our adjunct faculty and lecturers.
The administration has said that it recognizes the need to address the concerns of lecturers/adjuncts and supports employees’ right to unionize, but it opposes a third-party vote – is that not contradictory?

It is quite consistent. The University already has a shared governance model that has served it well, and working with our faculty we are always trying to improve upon it. Meaningful change is already underway without outside influence. Moreover, we feel it is far more effective to work with the entire faculty, and not have to negotiate with one group or segment in isolation from, or even opposition to, the others.

What is the NLRB?

The NLRB is an independent U.S. government agency with primary responsibility for enforcing U.S. labor-management laws governing union representation and collective bargaining.  It was established more than 80 years ago to protect the rights of private sector employees to join together, with or without a union, to improve their wages and working conditions, and regulate union-management relations. For many decades, it has operated under a proven, orderly, well-understood, well-regulated, and long-established process for navigating these matters.

Background on Unionization / Impact of Unionization

What is the role of a union?

A union is an organization created, governed and regulated by a series of mostly federal laws.  When a union is certified, it becomes the sole and exclusive representative of all employees in the “bargaining unit” to bargain with management on issues such as wages, hours, benefits and many working conditions and employment terms.  Once certified, the union is legally and exclusively empowered to negotiate future contracts with the employer on behalf of the group.

What is a bargaining unit?

A collective bargaining unit is a group of job positions with a sufficient “community of interest” for a union to represent them. If a union is elected to represent a bargaining unit, all employees holding those positions would be included in that bargaining unit and must accept representation by the union, regardless of whether they want to be in the union or not and whether they wish such representation or not.

What are authorization cards and what does it mean if I’ve signed one?

An authorization card drive is often one of the first steps toward establishing a union. Paid union organizers or interested faculty may ask those in the potential bargaining unit to sign a card. While the wording sometimes varies, by signing the card the signer is usually agreeing to be represented exclusively by the union, whether the signer realizes it or not.  Once a card is given to the union, it is under no obligation to return the card to employees who change their minds.  Such cards can be used for multiple purposes, including to support a petition for a union election, or in some cases to support a demand that the union be “recognized” by an employer without an election.  Faculty have the legal right to sign, or refuse to sign, authorization cards without pressure or coercion from anyone.

Can faculty identified as being part of the bargaining unit opt-out of being represented by union?

If a union is voted in, it will represent all adjunct faculty and lecturers in the bargaining unit regardless of whether particular individuals actually want to join the union. Individual members of this group would surrender the right to work directly with the University to determine most elements of their employment. It’s also important to remember that a union would be voted in if a majority of the people actually voting vote in favor of unionization, even if they do not represent the majority of those eligible to vote. 

How would unionization impact Santa Clara’s existing system of collaborative governance?
Those in a bargaining unit represented by a union could be excluded from our collaborative governance system because only the union would have the exclusive right to bargain over their employment terms (which is done through collective bargaining). Typically, collective bargaining agreements are only renegotiated once every 3-5 years. Consequently, the scope of the Faculty Affairs Committee, for example, would be reduced to address only policies affecting the rights and responsibilities of unrepresented faculty. The University could no longer make improvements to compensation, work environment, etc. for faculty in the collective bargaining unit without first negotiating such changes with the union during bargaining. Nor could an individual faculty member work directly with their Dean to address a scheduling conflict or a course release. That too would have to be negotiated through the union.
Would a union increase compensation and job security for adjunct faculty and lecturers?

Not necessarily. It is unknown what may result from a collective bargaining process. There are no guarantees.

What are typical union dues paid by faculty who are represented by a union?

A union can charge dues, initiation fees, fines and assessments. It is free to set and change dues as it sees fit, and the University would have no say in the matter. This is true whether you wanted to be in the union or not. Monthly dues can be a percentage of income. This means that each time you get a raise, more of your money will be spent on union dues.

What is SEIU's track record/history in representing academic appointees in higher education institutions?

SEIU’s historic focus has not been faculty at higher education institutions. SEIU has historically represented workers in the healthcare industry, public sector and property services. This includes janitors, security guards, home health workers and food service workers, among others. On our campus, the SEIU represents our maintenance and grounds employees.

Would unionization lead to an increase in tuition?

Unionization would increase the university’s legal and administrative costs, and all costs are considered in decisions regarding tuition.​

This website is intended to share the work underway to address the concerns that have been raised by our adjunct faculty and lecturers. Please check back often!