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Feds Open Door for Unions
at 2 Catholic Colleges

BY G. JEFFREY MACDONALD                                                                           ©2011 Religion News Service

For the second time this year, a federal regulator has rejected the First Amendment arguments of a Catholic college and cleared the way for the school's adjunct faculty to unionize.
In a May 26 decision, the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Saint Xavier University has no right to a religious exemption from board oversight because "it operates strictly as a secular educational institution."
The NRLB's argument is that since the Chicago school doesn't require faculty or students to profess Catholic beliefs, the NLRB's involvement in adjunct employment practices wouldn't interfere with Saint Xavier's religious freedom.
Earlier this year, another regional NLRB regulator issued a similar decision in a case involving Catholic-run Manhattan College in Riverdale, N.Y. An appeal in that case is currently pending before the NLRB in Washington.
Saint Xavier University President Christine M. Wiseman said the two schools stand together in claiming a violation of First Amendment rights. "The NLRB's attempt to exercise jurisdiction constitutes an undue burden or intrusion on our free exercise of religion," Wiseman said in a statement. "The issue is whether the Catholic Church and the bishops get to determine our Catholic identity--or whether the NLRB gets to determine our Catholic identity. This is an issue that could impact all religious institutions, and many of us are concerned."
At stake is not just principle but also millions of dollars per year. Religious colleges, like others in higher education, increasingly hold down payroll costs by hiring nonunion adjunct faculty to teach one or more courses on a part-time, contract basis. If schools are compelled to let adjuncts unionize, education costs could climb even higher.
In both regional NLRB rulings, regulators argued that if a college doesn't expect instructors to embrace tenets of faith, then NLRB oversight will neither be burdensome nor change the status quo on campus.

The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists along with the Association of Christian Schools International filed an amicus brief with the National Labor Relations Board in the Manhattan College matter. The General Conference is committed to upholding the church’s long standing and historical beliefs regarding labor unions and standing up for the religious rights of all faiths. The dangerous decision made in Manhattan College if allowed to stand would invite the NRLB to become a government adjudicator of the religious beliefs of faith based colleges.     

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