NEWS

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January 11, 2018

NLRB Issues Mixed Ruling on Library Unionization

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Courtesy of University of Chicago Photographic Archives

Since student library workers voted to unionize with the Student Library Employees Union (SLEU) in Spring 2017, the University has raised several objections to the election. In a December 15 ruling, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) upheld previous decisions against the University but kept allegations of electioneering alive.

In a previous ruling, the NLRB’s regional director refused to let the University present evidence of SLEU’s conduct during the election, saying the allegations weren’t substantial enough to suggest electioneering. According to William Herbert, Executive Director of CUNY–Hunter College’s National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions, a hearing will now be held to decide the remaining electioneering allegation.

“The recent decision means that a hearing will be held on only one of the election objections filed by the university,” Herbert wrote in an e-mail to The Maroon. “According to the NLRB decision, the University has witnesses who observed the conduct as well as photographs.”

However, the outcome of the hearing itself remains uncertain.

The ruling rejects the University’s other objections, including the claim that library workers aren’t employees under the National Labor Relations Act, the law that governs union formation. However, the Board could still potentially decide that library workers aren’t employees in another school’s unionization case, which could reopen the issue at Chicago.

A footnote in the ruling suggested member Marvin Kaplan may have recused himself. Kaplan, a Trump appointee whose wife works for Columbia University, has chosen not to rule on that university’s graduate unionization case. The ruling’s language suggests he may avoid campus unionization cases at other schools, which would be a boon to unions’ legal chances.

“Typically, these type of procedural decisions are delegated to three-member panels rather than the full five-member panel,” Herbert said, noting that Kaplan and member Lauren McFerran did not serve on the panel or participate in the decision. “The comment in the decision that Member Kaplan ‘took no part’ is suggestive that he chose to recuse himself but it is really not clear.”

Members Philip Miscimarra and William Emanuel were in the majority for the three-member panel’s decision, with Member Pearce dissenting.

The University has asked the full board to reconsider the employee status of library workers. University spokesperson Marielle Sainvilus declined to comment on the legal specifics of the case.

“The University has made its views on this matter clear in its submissions to the NLRB,” Sainvilus said. “At this point, the University is awaiting guidance regarding next steps in the process from the Regional Director, as directed by the NLRB’s order.”

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