Labor-Relations Board Seeks Input on Faculty Unions at Private Colleges

By Sara Hebel, Chronicle of Higher Education

The National Labor Relations Board is soliciting legal briefs on the question of whether or not faculty members at private colleges should be considered managers, a distinction that determines whether they are eligible for union representation.

Since a 1980 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, National Labor Relations Board v. Yeshiva University, professors at private colleges have been typically classified as managers and, therefore, largely barred from forming unions. In asking for the briefs in its announcement this week, the NLRB said it was seeking help in responding to a case involving Point Park University, a private institution in Pittsburgh where faculty members petitioned for a union election and voted, in 2003, to be represented by a local chapter of the Communications Workers of America.

Arguing that its full-time faculty members were managers, the university challenged the decision to hold the election. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit eventually sent the case back to the NLRB for a fuller explanation of its original conclusion that Point Park employees did not hold managerial roles and therefore could unionize. After a regional director of the NLRB again decided that the faculty members were professional employees eligible for union representation, the NLRB granted the university’s request to reconsider the issue.

The NLRB said it was seeking the briefs to help it respond specifically to the appeals court’s request to identify which of the factors spelled out in the Yeshiva decision are most significant in deciding whether faculty members are managers or not. The NLRB has set a July 6 deadline for the briefs to be filed.

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