Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is claiming victory in a ruling issued Friday by National Labor Relations Board that rejected Pacific Lutheran University’s objections to a vote of part-time faculty on forming a union.

Administrators at the Parkland-area school had argued that its religious affiliation placed it outside the labor board’s jurisdiction, but the ruling dismissed that argument.

A University spokesperson said legal counsel is reviewing the decision and the school is likely to join an appeal pending at NLRB filed by three other schools on relatively the same issue. At the same time, PLU will facilitate an election as soon as fall classes resume to determine whether a majority of contingent faculty then employed want union representation. 

“This is a great day for all contingent faculty and students at PLU and other universities,” said Steve Lansing, Ph.D., an alum of the school and former administrator with Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. His comments were provided by SEIU.

“We’ve been trying to address issues like pay and benefit inequities without any success for a long time,” explained Glenn Guhr, a contingent faculty member at PLU who is a lecturer in the Music Department. “Now that we have the opportunity to form a union, we’ll be able to bargain for fair improvements with PLU from a place of power.”

“Contingent or adjunct faculty members at PLU are currently paid at the top tier of marketplace earnings,” said Edith Disler, a spokesperson for the school. “Our regents are focused on efforts to get full-time tenured faculty salaries up another 10 percent to reach (their) market rate.”

Pacific Lutheran University uses a large group of highly trained contingents who comprise nearly half the total faculty. The union argues that they earn only a fraction of what tenured professors receive while teaching and their employment is more tenuous as part-time hires. Full-time faculty are also expected to perform research, publication and other administrative or committee functions.

School administrators state these positions are used to provide appropriate instruction for program specialties that are not large enough to warrant full-time faculty. And a spokesperson cited, as an example, an instructor within the Music Department who earns $51 an hour to teach the oboe. Another example given was a clinical instructor in the PLU Nursing Program, where the main duty is as a nurse, for which there is compensation.