January 12, 2015

Recent National Labor Relations Board Decision Affects Unionization at Private Colleges and Universities

Faculty members at private colleges and universities have traditionally had difficulty unionizing, thanks in large part to a 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision that held that Yeshiva University’s faculty members were managerial employees under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) (National Labor Relations Board v. Yeshiva University, 444 U.S. 672 (1980)). However, a recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board potentially makes it easier for such faculty members to unionize. (Unionization in public colleges and universities is governed by state labor laws.)

The case involved a unionization effort by contingent faculty members at Pacific Lutheran University, which the university opposed. In a 3-2 decision, the board ruled that the university had not demonstrated that the contingent faculty members are managerial employees under NLRA.  The board also ruled that Pacific Lutheran did not qualify for a religious exemption from NLRA.

In the decision, the board also established a five-factor test for determining whether faculty members are considered managerial employees. The test examines the faculty members’ involvement in decision-making processes concerning academic programs, enrollment management, finances, academic policy, and personnel policies and decisions, with greater weight given to the first three factors.