A local unit of the SEIU has refiled a petition to unionize full-time, non-tenured professors at Northeastern University in Boston.
Local 509 of the Service Employees International Union filed the petition April 9 for all “full-time non-tenured or non-tenure track faculty” at Northeastern to vote on whether to join the union that also represents the college’s part-time faculty.
The union withdrew a previous petition after the college took the position that the professors are essentially managers. “Managerial” workers are generally exempt from federal laws granting employees rights to organize and join unions. The issue gets tricky in the higher education context because of the increasing tendency among academic institutions to divide management between faculty and professional administrators.
Northeastern’s petition is potentially an interesting test case of whether faculty organizing across the country will continue to trend up or flatline.
The National Labor Relations Board in 2014 put in place a new test for deciding whether any particular group of faculty members trying to unionize are actually managers, citing recent developments in academia. A federal appeals court largely upheld the 2014 framework in a ruling last month.
SEIU Local 509 may have seen the appeals court ruling as a good reason to re-petition for a union election. Regardless of how the GOP-majority NLRB rules on the management status of the Northeastern petitioners, the board could end up establishing a new test in this area, although it will be somewhat constrained by the court’s ruling.
Representatives of Local 509 and the university didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.