A majority of Carroll College’s faculty has petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for permission to form a labor union, which is being opposed by Carroll’s board and administration.
The MEA-MFT union and the Associated Faculty of Carroll College submitted the petition Dec. 1, and it goes to a public NLRB hearing at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Federal Courthouse in Helena.
According to faculty spokesperson and English professor Kay Satre, the hearing could last several days, and it could be days or months before the hearing officer makes a decision.
If the NLRB approves the request, the faculty would hold a confidential vote on forming a union shortly thereafter, said Satre. They would need a vote of support by more than 50 percent of the faculty to proceed.
So far, more than 70 percent of the faculty has signed cards in support of forming a union, she said. Slightly more than 90 full-time faculty members would be affected, including professors, assistant and associate professors and instructors.
In announcing their intent to organize, the faculty group sent an Aug. 31 letter to Carroll President Thomas Evans, asking him to stand with them in support of forming a union, or to at least not stand in their way.
In their letter, the faculty quoted both papal and Catholic Church statements that support workers’ rights to organize unions.
Carroll President Thomas Evans declined to be interviewed for this story because he is focusing on the NLRB hearing, said Carroll director of public relations Sarah Lawlor.
However, he has submitted a letter to the Independent Record editor spelling out why he and the board oppose a faculty union.
“At Carroll, we operate under a shared governance model which emphasizes shared decision-making between faculty, the administration and the Board of Trustees,” Evans wrote.
“Shared governance is a collaborative approach to achieving common goals where faculty members are very much involved in the decision-making process. ... I strongly believe bringing in a third party would greatly diminish the collaborative nature of our work together.”
His letter further states that “We believe strongly that the faculty at Carroll College are instrumental in fulfilling the mission of the college and cannot be organized through the NLRB because to do so would violate the First Amendment separation of church and state.”
In addition, his letter states that faculty members are involved in managerial duties and therefore “are not eligible for unionization.”
Satre said that faculty would characterize the college’s shared governance as “a lot of consultation, but not decision-making power.”
“Our impetus (to form a union) comes from our desire as faculty to improve policies and processes at Carroll and to gain a more effective seat at the decision-making table,” Satre said. “The faculty care deeply about our students and our college.”
“(We) think a union is necessary because many of the most pressing issues seem structural and cultural to Carroll, not the result of one decision, one person, or one policy,” they wrote in their letter to Evans.
Faculty members have the longest careers at the college and the longest institutional memory, they wrote, and would therefore like to be partners with the administration, “but few of us perceive that to be the case now. We cannot regard ourselves as partners when so many of the important decisions at the college, including those that materially affect us personally and professionally are simply handed down to us.”
Some of the decisions having the most impact include budget decisions, work conditions and workload, Satre said.
This is not the first time Carroll faculty sought to form a union in the 24 years that Satre has been teaching at Carroll, she said. Two decades ago faculty members were interested in organizing, but they were told it was not legally possible, she said. But in 2015 the NLRB shifted some rules that have spurred this new effort.
“We are just pursuing our right to organize a union,” Satre said. “We are a member-driven organization. We will elect who sits at the bargaining table. It will be organized, led by and promote the interests of the faculty of Carroll College.”