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Major Union Handily Defeated As Adjunct Professors Reject Unionization

Last month’s vote to unionize by Hamline University’s adjunct faculty apparently had little effect on its fellow Minnesota private school, the University of St. Thomas, whose adjuncts resoundingly voted against joining the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) this week.

The 136-84 St. Thomas vote against unionizing showed a rare setback for the union’s Adjunct Action project, which had boasted of a steady stream of schools’ adjuncts voting to unionize, including at a fellow Jesuit school, Georgetown University.

The union pushed ahead at St. Thomas despite calling off a similar election in June at nearby Macalester College “amid growing dissent about the vote,” the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

A marketing professor at St. Thomas, Kim Sovell, told the Star-Tribune she wasn’t anti-union “but I’m anti being ramrodded … or rushed into making a decision,” especially when her job in the business school could be axed if the adjuncts unionized.

The College Fix previously reported that several St. Thomas adjuncts publicly argued against unionizing – quoted in the local media, writing their own opinion pieces and even filing alternative proposals – in the runup to the vote. One even accused the SEIU of scheduling a summer vote so most adjuncts would be absent from campus.

The administration crowed over the vote in a press release, saying the SEIU has until Monday to file formal objections about the campaign or election.

President Julie Sullivan, who is nearing her one-year anniversary at the school, described union contracts as “rigid and inflexible” and said she wanted to retain the Jesuit school’s “unique mission” in a campus email, the Star-Tribune said. She held half a dozen meetings with adjuncts in the weeks leading up to the vote.

Sullivan is “prepared to communicate and initiate an action plan addressing the top-level adjunct faculty priorities identified over the past year,” the St. Thomas press release said. Sullivan said she appreciates “the trust so many of you have placed in me and our new administration.”

SEIU organizers were muted over the results. “We are disappointed with the results of today’s election, but are incredibly proud of the gains this campaign achieved by bringing the reality faced by adjuncts at St. Thomas out of the shadows,” they told the Star-Tribune.

The union’s Adjunct Action site and social media profiles have made no mention of the St. Thomas vote all week.

A Wednesday post on Adjunct Action noted the U.S. House passed the Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act, which requires universities to “reveal important information about the working conditions of adjunct faculty.” A Twitter retweet Wednesday asked supporters to sign a petition backing adjuncts at the College of Saint Rose in New York who are organizing a union vote there, according to the Albany Business Review.

Not even the encouraging words from the Georgetown adjunct faculty could sway their St. Thomas peers to unionize, according to Watchdog.org, a reporting project of the free-market Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.

The St. Thomas administration emphasized that adjuncts would pay union fees to “an organization that spent $114 million on political activities and lobbying in 2012” and that SEIU’s existing contracts actually paid union members less than what most St. Thomas adjuncts were making, Watchdog.org said.

The administration also told adjuncts that union contracts “often prioritize and reward seniority over other employee qualifications,” and that adjuncts “who teach to share their professional expertise” – not primarily in higher education – may opt out of teaching if they have to pay dues.

The Star-Tribune said only one unionizing effort was voted down in the past year prior to the St. Thomas vote – that of Bentley University in Massachusetts.

Greg Piper is an assistant editor at The College Fix. (@GregPiper)

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IMAGE: SEIU/Flickr

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