By George J. Miller
On May 22, 2012, in long standing case involving Park Point University in Pittsburgh, a three member majority of the National Labor Relations Board issued an invitation for briefs from interested parties on the question of whether private university faculty members seeking to be represented by a union are employees covered by the National Labor Relations Act or, instead, are managers who are excluded from the Act’s coverage. Specifically, the NLRB is requesting briefs on eight questions, including which factors previously identified by the U.S. Supreme Court as indicia of managerial authority of faculty members are “most significant in making a finding of managerial status for university faculty members and why,” and whether “the factors employed by the Board in determining the status of university faculty members properly distinguish between indicia of managerial status and indicia of professional status under the Act?”
The two Republican members of the Board, Members Hayes and Flynn, objected to the issuance of this request, pointing out that the case has been pending before the Board in its current posture for almost five years, and various organizations representing “virtually all institutions of higher education” in the country have already filed amicus briefs in the case. They also pointed out that during the long pendency of this case, no other organizations have asked to participate in the case, and there is no legitimate reason to further delay the case.
Although the factors relevant to the managerial authority of university faculty were first enunciated by the U.S. Supreme Court over 30 years ago in a 1980 case involving Yeshiva University, and the Board has since been ordered by the courts to determine in each case “which factors were significant and which less so, and why” the Board has yet to make that determination in this case. This is astonishing considering that the case was first filed in 2003.
This request for briefs at this time appears to be for the purpose of soliciting more input from organized labor on this issue and to engage in a sort of back door rulemaking on the issue of faculty organizing. Although the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in the Yeshiva University case that each university is different, and the Board must make a decision in each and every case based upon the facts of that case, it appears that the Board intends to use its current three Democrat majority to create a precedent about which managerial factors are more important, and which are less important, in all cases. It will be no surprise if the Board ultimately narrows the managerial exception and makes it easier for faculty to organize in future cases.