Goucher faculty attempt to join labor union stalled

Goucher union hopes: 33-33 tie, 12 votes to be counted, 3 thrown out.

A recent vote by a group of Goucher College faculty about joining a Washington-based labor union resulted in a deadlock after officials on both sides challenged the legitimacy of some employees' votes.

The outcome has raised concern from some faculty members who say their "visiting" status on campus negated their ballots, and results in them being excluded from a bargaining voice.

Goucher's nontenured faculty, as well as those not on a track for tenure status, voted in late November and early December on whether to join the Service Employees International Union Local 500, which represents workers in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. Local schools that already have SEIU membership include the Maryland Institute College of Art, Montgomery College and several institutions in the Washington area.

Mailed ballots were counted Dec. 9 by the National Labor Relations Board in Baltimore. Officials from Goucher and the union say 81 ballots were tabulated — but 15 weren't counted, and those remaining resulted in a 33-33 deadlock.

Goucher's administration challenged nine of the ballots, but officials have declined to say why.

Union spokesman Christopher Honey said SEIU questioned another three, citing concerns that they may have been cast by tenured faculty — only nontenured and non-tenure-track faculty were eligible to vote. Both sides say another three ballots were discarded because they were not properly completed.

Goucher officials did not identify staff whose ballots were challenged, but two faculty members say they were among those rejected.

Maureen Winter, a Goucher alumna who has taught this year as a visiting French instructor, said she believes her vote was thrown out because of her "visiting teacher" status.

"They're saying visiting instructors … their votes should not be counted because they may not be staying, that they're not stable members of the community, so they shouldn't be voicing their opinion."said Winter.

Jeffrey Dowd, a visiting assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, said he also cast one of the nine votes questioned by the school.

He said faculty isn't seeking the union's help on any specific demand, but are worried about overall bargaining power as schools nationwide staff larger numbers of adjunct and part-time faculty members, while tenured and tenure-track faculty numbers are decreasing.

"The talk about every position is that it's a very temporary, insecure position, and the number of those garnering tenure is becoming smaller and smaller," Dowd said. "We feel like joining a union is a way to give us a much larger voice in the community."

Goucher President Jose A. Bowen said via email that the school shares concerns about adjunct hires, but he said the college "bucks the national trend of hiring increasing numbers of adjunct faculty."

"While we do hire non-tenure-track faculty members, many of whom have taught at the college for numerous years ... a Goucher education is largely provided by full-time, tenure-track faculty members," he said.

The issue of the vote and the uncounted ballots has been forwarded to the NLRB, which could hold a hearing to resolve the matter. Goucher officials said there is no timetable for a ruling.

"Whatever happens," said Bowen, "we will continue to deal fairly and humanely with everyone employed at the college."

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