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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Saint Martin’s University fights faculty unionization efforts

Tribune News Service

Saint Martin’s University is asking the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a stay in the certification of a recent unionization vote by members of its non-tenured faculty.

“The fundamental issue is whether the NLRB has jurisdiction over a religious institution,” said Genevieve Canceko Chan, a spokeswoman for the Lacey-based private college. “…This is a question about our religious character.”

On June 17, Saint Martin’s adjunct and contingent faculty members voted to unionize and join Service Employees International Union Local 925 in Seattle. Out of 125 faculty members who were eligible to vote, 64 voted yes, 33 voted no, and 28 didn’t cast a ballot.

“There have been past attempts to get something going, but nothing ever got past people talking about it,” said Saint Martin’s contingent faculty member Blaine Snow, who was on the organizing committee. “This is a major milestone in the history of Saint Martin’s. It’s huge.”

Snow said faculty members aren’t surprised that the administration is trying to block their efforts.

“I think they’re going to do everything they can to try and stall and delay and resist,” he said. “The management doesn’t want to share power.”

The university’s request to stay the vote certification by the regional office of the NLRB was denied.

“We are currently in the process of filing a brief requesting that the board in Washington, D.C., review the regional director’s decision,” Chan said.

Meanwhile, Saint Martin’s contingent and adjunct faculty plan to form a bargaining team to help negotiate a future contract, Snow said.

Pay is one of the top concerns.

“You have tenured faculty who are basically teaching the same classes and making way, way more,” said Snow, who teaches English and American culture classes to foreign students at the university.

“Saint Martin’s is one of the lowest pay rates of adjunct faculty in the state. Adjunct faculty can go to South Puget Sound (Community College) or Pierce College and make more money.”

A brochure obtained by the Olympian that was mailed from SEIU to Saint Martin’s faculty members before the election states: “Full professors make only an average of $65,034 annually in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. A typical full-time contingent professor earns only $34,389 or 53 percent of what a full professor makes, despite having a full-time teaching load.

“Part-time contingent professors, who constitute the majority of the faculty body at 63 percent, are paid unconscionably low wages and are marginalized from the larger academic community they serve,” the brochure said.

Saint Martin’s has about 200 faculty members, and about 70 are tenured or on a tenure track, Chan said.

The unionization efforts are also opposed by Saint Martin’s Abbey, which is a separate corporation from the university. The Benedictine monastic community founded the school more than 100 years ago, and its monks continue to teach and work at Saint Martin’s.

“I guess the first thing I thought is, ‘That’s peculiar, I wonder why they think they need a union to be heard?’ ” said Abbot Neal Roth, who is on Saint Martin’s board of trustees and also serves as the university’s chancellor. “We’re such a small school, and it’s not hard to talk to anybody who is an administrator.”

Roth said he believes that Saint Martin’s should be given a religious exemption from the NLRB’s rules.