Education

About 100 union supporters walk out at Saint Martin’s University

Students and faculty members walk out at Saint Martin's University

About 100 people, including students and faculty members, participated Tuesday in a walkout and teach-in at Saint Martin’s University, protesting the private university’s objection to a recently formed faculty union.
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About 100 people, including students and faculty members, participated Tuesday in a walkout and teach-in at Saint Martin’s University, protesting the private university’s objection to a recently formed faculty union.

Carrying signs with phrases such as “Classroom rights, not courtroom fights” and chanting messages such as “What’s disgusting? Union busting,” about 100 faculty and students participated Tuesday in a walkout and teach-in at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey.

The hourlong event began at 1 p.m. near the university’s grand staircase.

“A lot of people that are contingent faculty members struggle to live above the poverty line because we’re not given benefits,” contingent faculty member Kyle Smith told the crowd. “…All I want to do is be rewarded respectfully for the amount of work we’re putting in.”

The event included a march through the halls of Old Main, past the offices of university President Roy Heynderickx.

“Pope Francis says ‘Unions are good,’ Heynderickx bargain like you should,” the crowd chanted.

In June, members of the Catholic university’s adjunct and contingent faculty voted to form a union and join Seattle-based Service Employees International Union Local 925. The university filed a request for review by the National Labor Relations Board.

“The administration requested the review with support and direction from the University’s Board of Trustees, which includes members of Saint Martin’s Abbey, including Abbot Neal Roth, our chancellor,” spokeswoman Genevieve Canceko Chan said.

University officials don’t believe the NLRB has jurisdiction over a religious institution, she said.

“Our concern is our religious freedom and whether the NLRB, if the decision is upheld, will have final authority on whether we are ‘Catholic enough,’ impacting our ability to fulfill our religious mission,” Canceko Chan said.

Instead of bringing a third party into the mix, university officials want to keep a direct working relationship with the faculty members, according to a statement posted on Saint Martin’s website.

The proposed bargaining unit would represent about 125 nontenured faculty members, including Harold Nelson, a retired state worker who has taught math at Saint Martin’s since 1986.

“I’m not suffering financially because I have a pension, but I know too many people here who are trying to live on $20,000 a year or less,” he said. “… What brought me out today? Continuing irritation. Annoyance.”

Katie Hamilton, 19, a sophomore at Saint Martin’s, didn’t miss class, but she did take time off from her part-time job to participate in the event. She said the faculty union has the support of many students.

“I hope the university will get the message that the teachers and the students are united in the fact that we want a union, and we’ll fight together for this,” she said.

After the rally and march, participants broke into small groups to discuss Catholic social teaching on unionization.

Full-time faculty member Katie Bugyis, who teaches religious studies, told the crowd that the Catholic Church has actively and explicitly been in favor of unionization since the late 19th Century.

She said the right to form a union is part of the faculty members’ “religious freedom,” and supports the university’s Benedictine values.

“(The university’s opposition to the union) cuts against any attempt for the contingent faculty to feel stable or rooted in this community, which is un-Benedictine — it is un-Catholic,” Bugyis said. “So more than anything, that is what we have to fight for: that people don’t feel so precarious in the positions that they have.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433, @Lisa_Pemberton

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