Actually, on Thursday evening, at a town hall style meeting open to all Manhattan College adjunct faculty to discuss the union organizing drive, President O'Donnell repeated Julius Caesar's famous quotation in English, "The die has been cast!" Caesar said these words as he was about to lead his troops across the Rubicon River , on their way to what would turn out to be civil war in Pompey.
We hope President O'Donnell was not invoking Julius Caesar's words as a battle cry against Manhattan College 's adjunct faculty (and, frankly, we highly doubt that was his intention). But also disturbing is President O'Donnell's probable modern meaning of the idiom, essentially, "There is no turning back!"
President O'Donnell was referencing the Labor Board hearing (which continues on Tuesday) where the College's lawyer steadfastly insists that a union election would threaten Manhattan College's Catholic heritage and mission, and that the Labor Board's jurisdiction over this issue is a violation of the separation of church and state. The College's Administration has made no secret of the fact that it intends to appeal the Labor Board decision (a decision that will almost certainly be in favor of the Union as it was ten years ago when the College's fulltime faculty had their own union organizing drive) potentially dragging out this process out for months. At the same time nobody from the Administration - not the attorney, not Vice President Fabe, not Dr. Merriman, not the provost, not the deans, not President O'Donnell himself - has offered even one example of how a union, let alone a union election overseen by the Labor Board, could possibly erode the Catholic culture and tradition of Manhattan College.
Our guess is that nobody on Manhattan College Administration is able to offer examples because the real issue isn't about a union or Labor Board "threat" to the College's Lasallian and Catholic heritage. A "threat" makes no sense given the fact that many religiously affiliated schools and colleges and universities have longtime unionized staff or unionized faculty without compromising their religious culture and history: President O'Donnell surely has experience with at least one unionized workforce in a Catholic institution - at Fordham University the staff have been unionized for years. St. John's University has had a unionized faculty for decades. And faculty at the University of San Francisco (a Jesuit institution) participated in their own NLRB election for union representation back in 1975. In fact, you'd never know it from the Administration's posturing on their duty to "protect" the College from "government intrusion" but Manhattan College has already "survived" two Labor Board elections quite well so far as anyone can tell, and has unionized staff right now. That's right, Manhattan College 's security guards and maintenance/housekeeping staff in the dormitories both have union representation.
So what IS the real issue if there actually isn't a threat to the College's Catholic identity and culture? It's probably not very different from the usual issue that is at the core of most any union campaign - a challenge to the status quo. When employees form a union their (collective) relationship with their employer changes. Instead of a dynamic where the employer makes unilateral decisions about every aspect of its employees' jobs, with union representation the employees have a voice, an opportunity through collective bargaining to negotiate a contract which details the terms of their employment - pay, benefits, working conditions. It's no secret that workers with unions do better - wages, benefits, and job security improve with collective bargaining. These improvements are what is known as the "union difference" and it's statistically significant for workers of all types, across all industries, with the difference being even more profound for women and people of color. In short, because of the union difference, President O'Donnell (like most employers) would prefer not to have to negotiate anything about adjunct faculty's jobs.
Problem is, it's not his choice. The choice about whether or not to form a union rests solely with Manhattan College 's adjunct faculty. We believe President O'Donnell and other members of the Administration and the Board of Trustees are wrong to try and preclude the College's adjunct faculty from voting for or against union representation in a fair and democratic election. But more immediately, we believe President O'Donnell was wrong on just a procedural matter when he addressed dozens of adjunct faculty last Thursday. He CAN turn back. Or, more optimistically, he can look forward. President O'Donnell absolutely has the power to direct his attorney to reach a stipulation on an union election for Manhattan College adjunct faculty when she returns to the Labor Board on Tuesday.
In the meantime, the Union is looking forward too. Soon, we plan to release a bargaining survey for the College's adjunct faculty. There has already been a month delay in forming the union and getting on to the important work of bargaining a first contract. We want to start using this time as productively as possible. Are you interested in helping to write and/or distribute the bargaining survey? Would you like to serve on the Organizing Committee? Call us and let us know. Our number is 212-989-3470.
Sam Rasiotis-Christina Hilo-Daniel Esakoff-Julie Berman
New York State United Teachers/American Federation of Teachers
*For more information about the Manhattan College Adjunct Faculty Union organizing drive go to http://www.nyorganizing.org/manhattan/
*To see the petition in support of Manhattan College adjunct faculty's right to vote go to http://www.nyorganizing.org/manhattan/Petition.htm
*For more information about the proceedings currently underway at the Labor Board go to http://www.nyorganizing.org/manhattan/testimony.htm