Updated Sept. 23, at 6:16 p.m. to clarify the allegations against the university.
Service Employees International Union Workers United Southern Region filed charges against Elon University on the behalf of two former Elon adjunct faculty members, Robin Gary and Catherine Bush.
The two charges, which both allege Elon University violated the National Labor Relations Act by allegedly retaliating against Bush and Gary for engaging in union activity, were filed Sept. 21, according to a National Labor Relations Board Spokesman.
“Our career experts in Region 10, Atlanta, will investigate to determine if the charges have merit,” an NLRB Spokesman told Elon News Network.
The allegations included concerted activities, which can be related to retaliation, as well as discharge, which can be related to layoff and refusal to hire.
Both Gary and Bush were members of the Elon Faculty Forward Union and had contracts that were not renewed for this fall. Non-tenure faculty have limited-term appointments with no guarantee for reemployment.
Owen Covington, director of Elon University News Bureau, said the university just received notice of the filing, and does not have a response at this time.
Associate professor of law Eric Fink said filing charges like this is an alternative to a regular lawsuit and is not uncommon.
“It is a normal part of the framework of the law that when disputes between the union and an employer … the law has special procedures for bringing those disputes in front of someone to resolve that,” Fink said.
Unfair labor practices, which is what the charges are described as in the Elon Faculty Forward press release, is a term used for any violations under section 8 of the Federal Labor Act. Fink said any conduct by an employer or by a union that violates the statute is called an unfair labor practice.
Gary had been an adjunct professor at Elon for over five years and served in the departments of sociology, poverty and social justice. Gary said the SEIU filing these charges on her behalf made her feel very supported, something she said she has not felt since her contract was not renewed in July.
“That’s one of the reasons I fought for the union in the first place,” Gary told Elon News Network in an interview. “So that adjuncts and non-tenured faculty have some support, and a network they could turn to.”
Bush was an assistant professor in biology and had worked at Elon for eight years. Bush, who has been a member of the Elon Faculty Forward Union since its inception, fought for the union’s “Humane Budget” proposal last spring. Bush said she feels like she was “retaliated against” by the university, and “just the idea of filing” is a win.
“I spoke up a lot, and they didn’t want me to speak. They wanted me to be erased. They wanted what I said, the truth I spoke, to be erased,” Bush said. “And with Professor Gary next to me as a dear friend, we’re saying we’re not going to be erased.”
While Gary said she hopes the university responds “in a positive way,” she said her lawyer has told her to have “moderate expectations.”
Sophomore Rachel Goldstein, a student of Gary’s this past spring, signed a letter of support over the summer for Gary, Bush and all adjunct faculty at the university. Goldstein said while she had hoped Gary would regain her position at the university, she said she hopes the university takes the current situation with adjunct professors as a learning experience.
“It’s very interesting to see how the university is responding to the student body on many issues, [and] I think Robin Gary is just one of them,” Goldstein said. “A lot of us outwardly expressed our outrage and our sadness and nothing happened … These are all learning experiences for how campus addresses the students, and makes them feel seen and heard.”
Fink said the next step in the procedure will include investigating the charges to decide whether or not there is enough information to issue a complaint. According to Fink, Elon University is not required to participate in the investigation; however if a complaint is issued, the case can go to trial, and the university would be required to participate at that point.
The university did file a “Request for Review” in 2018, just after the Elon Faculty Forward Union was certified by the regional NLRB, but Fink said that the request will not impact the charges filed against Elon.
“The question that's on appeal has to do with whether it was proper to certify the union at all, whether the adjuncts should be excluded because they’re considered managerial employees,” Fink said. “And these charges are not really related to that question.”