Information about the faculty union question at Elon

Elon University provides this factual information to answer common questions and inform our community about issues related to potentially forming a chapter of a labor union. Elon provides updates on the current status of the faculty union question on this website’s homepage. The homepage was last updated on May 14, 2019.

May 15, 2019 UPDATE

What has happened since March 19, 2019, when the university filed objections to the election with the NLRB?

On April 2, the NLRB held a hearing on Elon’s objections to SEIU conduct during the election, and on May 13 the National Labor Relations hearing officer in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, recommended that the NLRB Regional Director in Atlanta overrule those objections. NLRB rules allow either party to file exceptions to the hearing officer’s recommendation by May 28. The other party would then have seven days to respond to the exceptions. The NLRB Regional Director will then issue a final ruling on the objections and decide whether to certify the results of the union election.

Following the decision by the NLRB Regional Director, either party may file a “request for review” with the national office of the NLRB related to the initial decision by the NLRB to conduct an election and its definition of the voting group.

March 12, 2019 UPDATE

What was the result of the March 12 vote tally?

Agents of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) have now counted ballots cast in the election regarding a faculty union for adjunct, limited term and visiting faculty members at Elon. Of the 283 eligible voters, 200 ballots were received. The count was 112 in favor of unionization and 68 against. A total of 20 ballots were challenged by the parties, but that number is not enough to change the outcome of the vote tally.

Can the university challenge the results of the election?

NLRB procedures following the vote tally allow seven days for either party to file objections to the election before the final count is certified. After the votes are certified, there is a 14-day period during which either party can formally ask the NLRB to review the election process. The university is gathering further information about the results and process of the election and will soon make a decision on its next steps.

What comes next?

Either party may challenge the results of the election by filing objections, and can also file a “request for review” which would call for a review of the initial decision by the NLRB to conduct an election and its definition of the voting group.

If neither party files objections to the election or files a “request for review,” the NLRB would certify the SEIU as the collective bargaining agent for adjunct, limited term and visiting faculty members. Once certified, the union would negotiate with the university the terms and conditions of employment for all members of the unit, whether they voted for the union or not.

February 6, 2019 UPDATE – About the Election

When will the vote be held?

The election will be conducted by U.S. Mail, with the National Labor Relations Board mailing voting kits to eligible voters. Those kits, which will include the election ballot, will be mailed to eligible voters by the NLRB on February 19, 2019, and completed ballots must be returned by voters early enough to be received by the NLRB no later than 2 p.m. on March 12, 2019, to be counted for the election. The NLRB will count the votes at its office in Winston-Salem at 2 p.m. on March 12, 2019, and will then announce the results.

When will we know the outcome of the election?

The NLRB has scheduled the vote count for 2 p.m. on March 12, 2019. At that time, the NLRB will count the ballots and issue a document called a Tally of Ballots. After the Tally of Ballots is issued, both the Union and Elon have seven days to file objections to the election.

If no objections are filed, and if the number of challenged ballots is not sufficient to change the outcome, the NLRB will certify the election result. If objections are filed, and/or if the number of challenged ballots is large enough to affect the outcome of the election, the NLRB will take steps to resolve those issues.

Do I have to register to vote?

No. There is no registration requirement and all individuals are eligible to vote based solely on their employment in an eligible position during the eligibility period.

Faculty members included in this vote are:

All limited term, visiting, and adjunct faculty teaching at least one credit-bearing undergraduate course in Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences; the School of Communications; the School of Education; or the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business; who taught or were contracted to teach during the fall 2018 to spring 2019 academic year, or who taught at least one class in the spring 2018 or fall 2018 semesters.

Employees do not have to have signed a union authorization card to be eligible to vote and any faculty member who may have signed a union authorization card can still reject union representation by voting “No.”

How can I check to see if I am an eligible voter?

If your name is on the voter eligibility list, you will receive an email from Elon transmitting the National Labor Relations Board’s official Notice of Election by February 16, 2019. If you did not receive that email, you may contact your dean to check whether your name is on the voter list. Each dean has a copy of the voter eligibility list. You may also contact the National Labor Relations Board by either calling the Region 10 Office at (404) 331-2896 or its national toll-free line at 1-844-762-NLRB (1-844-762-6572).

How do I make sure the National Labor Relations Board has my address?

As required by federal law, the university has to provide the National Labor Relations Board with each eligible voter’s name and home address (among other required information) using the address information you have on file with Elon. If your address has changed or if you will be at a different address during the mail ballot voting period, you may contact the National Labor Relations Board by either calling the Region 10 Office at (404) 331-2896 or its national toll-free line at 1-844-762-NLRB (1-844-762-6572) to provide them with an alternative address.

Is Elon required to provide personal information to the SEIU and the National Labor Relations Board as part of the election?

Now that an election has been scheduled, Elon must provide to the SEIU and to the NLRB the name, home address, and to the extent it is in Elon’s possession, home phone number, cellular phone number and personal email address for each eligible voter.

While we know many of you will view this disclosure as an invasion of privacy, this is currently a legal requirement under the National Labor Relations Act. If Elon failed to comply, the results of the election could be voided.

The SEIU can, and is likely to, use this information to contact you away from work. You obviously have the right to speak with them, but have no legal obligation to do so. You can also decline to speak with the union.

I’ll be out of town during the voting period. Can I have my ballot sent to an alternative address?

If you need your ballot sent to an alternative address, please contact the National Labor Relations Board by either calling the Region 10 Office at (404) 331-2896 or its national toll-free line at 1-844-762-NLRB (1-844-762-6572).

What if I am an eligible voter but didn’t receive a ballot?

If you do not receive a ballot in the mail by Tuesday, February 26, or if you need your ballot sent to an alternative address, communicate immediately with the National Labor Relations Board by either calling the Region 10 Office at (404) 331-2896 or its national toll-free line at 1-844-762-NLRB (1-844-762-6572).

Can I vote on campus?

No. The NLRB ordered that the vote be conducted exclusively by U.S. Mail ballot.

Can I vote electronically?

No. Votes may only be cast using the paper ballots received in the voting kit mailed out by the National Labor Relations Board on February 19, 2019.

What is the question on the NLRB ballot?

The NLRB ballot will ask the following question:

“Do you wish to be represented for purposes of collective bargaining by SEIU Workers United Southern Region?”

That question will be followed by boxes for “Yes” and “No,” as in the sample ballot below:

A “Yes” vote means the voter wishes to be represented by the labor union.

A “No” vote means the voter does not want to be represented by the labor union.

Who is SEIU Workers United Southern Region? I thought this union organizing involved SEIU Faculty Forward?

While SEIU Faculty Forward appears to be involved, it is just the name of the SEIU’s effort to represent higher education faculty and graduate students and is not the name of the union. The union identified on the election petition and that seeks to represent faculty members is “SEIU Workers United Southern Region.”

That union is headquartered at 4405 Mall Blvd., in Union City, Georgia, and has locals in Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The union’s website is at: https://www.workersunited.org/southern-regional-joint-board.

How do I complete my ballot?

The NLRB will mail a voting kit to each eligible voter. This voting kit contains the official, detailed instructions for completing the ballot and submitting the completed ballot to the NLRB.

To vote, you must place a mark in the box marked “Yes” or “No” on the official ballot you received in the voting kit from the NLRB. Remember, the NLRB election is by secret ballot so you should not put your name or other identifier on the ballot.

Place the marked ballot in the blue “Official Secret Ballot” envelope you received in the voting kit. Finally, place the blue envelope containing the marked ballot inside the yellow envelope. Seal the yellow envelope, sign the yellow envelope, and mail the signed yellow envelope back to the National Labor Relations Board so that it is received by 2 p.m. on March 12. The yellow envelope is stamped and has the NLRB’s return address.

More details about completing and submitting your ballot are available on the “About the Vote” page on this site.

Is my vote secret?

Yes. This is a secret ballot election, which means no one will know how you voted unless you tell them. A “Yes” vote means the voter wishes to be represented by the labor union.  A “No” vote means the voter does not want to be represented by the labor union.

Is there a minimum number of faculty who must vote for the results to be valid?

No. A majority of eligible voters who actually cast a vote will determine the outcome. In the most extreme example, if only one eligible voter casts a ballot, that person’s vote – “Yes” or “No” – will decide the outcome.

What happens if a majority of those casting ballots vote “No”?

Affected faculty will remain free to address issues like compensation, benefits, professional development, length of appointment and other workplace issues directly with Elon. That includes being able to address those issues directly with your dean, department chair and administrators, or through Elon’s system of shared governance.

What happens if a majority of those casting ballots vote “Yes”?

If those results are ultimately certified by the NLRB, Elon and the SEIU will eventually enter into good faith collective bargaining. Good faith bargaining requires the parties to meet and to consider proposals from the other side. Both Elon and the SEIU have the legal right to make proposals. However, neither is obligated to make a concession to the other, and good faith bargaining does not require the parties to reach agreement.  Agreement requires the consent of both sides.

If a union is selected, what happens if Elon and the SEIU cannot reach agreement during bargaining?

If the parties are not able to reach agreement, the parties can continue to negotiate.  There is no maximum time limit on how long negotiations can take place. It is not unusual for first contract negotiations to take a year or longer.

Alternately, if the parties cannot reach agreement, the SEIU has the legal right to call a strike in an attempt to pressure Elon into accepting the SEIU’s demands. While you may think a strike would not occur in the university environment, there have been a few situations where SEIU Faculty Forward has taken higher education faculty on strike during negotiations.

What does a union strike involve?

Employees have a legal right to strike and cannot be disciplined for engaging in a lawful strike. If an employee is not working during a strike, however, the employee is not paid by the Employer.

During a strike, a University may continue to hold classes using faculty who elect not to go on strike or faculty from outside the bargaining unit.

If the union is not selected, can there be another election?

If a majority of those who cast ballots vote “No,” another election can be held on the issue of unionization in one year.

On the other hand, if a majority of those who cast ballots vote “Yes,” and a union contract is then negotiated, there cannot be a vote to eliminate the SEIU (or to bring in another union) for the life of that collective bargaining agreement, up to a maximum of three years. Even if represented faculty are not satisfied with the representation or the terms of the negotiated agreement, the SEIU is irrevocably in place for the term of the collective bargaining agreement, up to three years.

December 13, 2018 UPDATE

Will my pay increase if unionization happens?

There is no guarantee that collective bargaining would improve pay, benefits or other working conditions for unionized faculty members. In collective bargaining, pay and benefits can go up, go down or remain the same. No one can predict the outcome of collective bargaining.

Can the union give away benefits I already have?

Yes. While it is possible that collective bargaining could provide unionized faculty with more than they had when negotiations began, it is also possible that terms and conditions could remain unchanged or that faculty could get less than they had before the start of negotiations.

Will I have to pay union dues?

North Carolina is a “right-to-work state,” so employees represented by the labor union cannot be required to become union members or pay union dues as a condition of employment. However, even if such an employee decided to not join the union, that employee would still be represented by the union. That representation means that the union will negotiate aspects of employment such as pay, health insurance, professional development funds and teaching responsibilities.

December 10, 2018 UPDATE

Would Elon faculty members represent themselves directly in union bargaining, or would negotiations be handled by the SEIU employees?

If the SEIU is certified as the bargaining agent for a group of faculty at Elon, under federal law the SEIU, not individual bargaining unit members, has both the legal right to demand bargaining and the legal obligation to bargain with Elon in “good faith.” As a result of those legal obligations, the union’s bargaining effort is almost always led by a professional negotiator – typically called the “Chief Spokesperson” – who is employed by the union or a lawyer hired by the union from an outside law firm. Additionally, the union often includes one or two SEIU “local” representatives who are part of the Faculty Forward organization or the local union out of Atlanta, Georgia (the petitioner in this case is “SEIU Workers United Southern Region” which is headquartered in Atlanta).

The SEIU would also likely form a bargaining team to meet with Elon leadership and bargain over the terms and conditions of employment for the union-represented faculty (e.g. bargain over a contract). It is up to the SEIU to set the composition of the union’s bargaining team, but typically the union bargaining team consists of the Chief Spokesperson from the SEIU International labor union, one or two of the SEIU “local” representatives and a handful of faculty bargaining representatives. Often, the faculty bargaining representatives are the same individuals who have been most active supporting the union.

As a general proposition, however, the union’s Chief Spokesman typically leads the discussion at the bargaining table, is the person responsible for generating the union’s contract proposals and possesses the authority to bind the union to an agreement.

If I am represented by a labor union, can I still communicate with department chairs and the university administration in the same way?

Once an employee is represented by a labor union, the union becomes the exclusive representative for that employee for all matters related to employment. It is unlawful for administrators and/or academic leaders to “deal” directly with union represented employees on employment-related matters. As such, certain discussions about teaching responsibilities, professional development funding and other benefits could require input from the union.

Would Academic Council still be an avenue for union-represented faculty to address concerns?

How union-represented faculty would be represented on Academic Council and which discussions they could take part in are unknown. There are two reasons for this. First, whether union-related faculty could participate in Academic Council, and if so to what extent, would be determined at the bargaining table. That is because with unionization, the labor union becomes the sole bargaining agent for the faculty it represents for any matter relating to employment – such as participation in shared governance. Second, if a member of Academic Council is represented by a labor union, a conflict of interest could exist if issues related to faculty employment are being discussed and acted upon.

Would a labor union impact other collaborative work outside of Academic Council?

It could. Elon has a history of forming small groups and task forces to address a number of issues that have arisen affecting the Elon community. If those groups were to tackle issues relating to aspects of employment for union-represented faculty members, the dynamic of that work would be altered and the ability of the university and these faculty to work together directly, both individually and in small groups, would be impacted. Instead, the labor union would serve as the voice of the faculty it represents in certain discussions.

Elon communications about this issue seem vague and different from the way the university typically informs the campus. Why is that?

We are in the “critical period” before a unionization vote, which means there are legal restrictions on how the university can talk about this issue and what information it can share. For instance, Elon is prohibited from “promising or granting promotions, pay raises, or other benefits,” since such actions might improperly influence the vote. The university is doing what it can to inform the campus community about this important issue while being mindful of restrictions on how it communicates.

December 7, 2018 UPDATE – Amended Election Petition

The SEIU amended its election petition to change the groups of faculty it seeks to represent. What does the amended petition say?

In its amended petition, which Elon received on December 7, the SEIU describes the voting unit as follows: “[a]ll non-tenure-track employees at Elon University teaching at least one credit- bearing undergraduate course in the College of Arts and Science, School of Communications, School of Education, or Martha & Spencer Love School of Business (including but not limited to visiting faculty, limited term faculty, adjunct faculty, and instructors). Excluding: All other employees, all tenured and tenure-track faculty, all continuing track faculty, all lecturing track faculty, all employees teaching online courses only, staff with faculty rank, all administrators (including those with teaching assignments), managers, and supervisors as defined by the [National Labor Relations] Act.” Faculty members in the School of Law and the School of Health Sciences are also not included in the group the SEIU seeks to represent.

December 6, 2018 UPDATE

Why hasn’t Elon appointed a task force since the union’s filing of the petition?

Elon is restricted by federal law in how it can now act. Setting up a task force may be seen as the university trying to improperly influence the faculty’s decision about unionizing. The law prohibits the university from making “promises of action,” like creating such a task force with the specific purpose of addressing issues raised after a petition has been filed. As always, Elon will comply with the law.

Union Basics

What is this union issue all about?

On Thursday, November 29, 2018, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) filed a petition for the formation of a labor union at Elon. The petition calls for an election in which impacted faculty members would vote on whether the SEIU will exclusively represent them in negotiating terms and conditions of employment.

UPDATED FEBRUARY 6, 2019Who does it affect?

This issue has the potential to affect everyone in the Elon community. Since initially filing its petition on November 29, the SEIU has changed the groups of faculty it seeks to represent. In its amended petition, which Elon received on December 7, the SEIU describes the voting unit as follows: “[a]ll non-tenure-track employees at Elon University teaching at least one credit- bearing undergraduate course in the College of Arts and Science, School of Communications, School of Education, or Martha & Spencer Love School of Business (including but not limited to visiting faculty, limited term faculty, adjunct faculty, and instructors). Excluding: All other employees, all tenured and tenure-track faculty, all continuing track faculty, all lecturing track faculty, all employees teaching online courses only, staff with faculty rank, all administrators (including those with teaching assignments), managers, and supervisors as defined by the [National Labor Relations] Act.” Faculty members in the School of Law and the School of Health Sciences are also not included in the group the SEIU seeks to represent.

On February 5, 2019, the National Labor Relations Board ordered that a vote take place. Faculty members included in the vote are:

All limited term, visiting, and adjunct faculty teaching at least one credit-bearing undergraduate course in Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences; the School of Communications; the School of Education; or the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business; who taught or were contracted to teach during the fall 2018 to spring 2019 academic year, or who taught at least one class in the spring 2018 or fall 2018 semesters.

Is a labor union the only way for faculty to work to improve their working conditions?

No. Elon has a strong history of using its shared governance system — Academic Council — to address concerns from all faculty. Both part-time and non-tenure-track faculty members, along with tenure track and tenured faculty, serve on Academic Council, which has a track record of considering and addressing issues that are brought forth. Among the accomplishments of Academic Council are increasing faculty development support for part-time and full-time faculty and expanding support for part-time faculty including contract renewal, professional development, participation in new faculty orientation and increasing instructional spending.

Will members of the union contact me?

They may. Union representatives are allowed to contact any eligible voter using this information, which could include visits to your home or communications by email, text or phone. Organizers are not permitted to disrupt your teaching and research work and should not harass or intimidate anyone. If you do not wish to interact with them, you can ask union organizers to leave.

Am I free to voice my views either for or against unionization?

Yes. Retaliation against a person for views on unionization is a violation of the National Labor Relations Act and is not compatible with Elon’s shared values.

Union representation

If I don’t join the union, I won’t be impacted, right?

All members of the affected faculty unit will be bound by the terms of the union-negotiated contract. That means that the labor union will negotiate pay, teaching responsibilities, health insurance, professional development funds and other benefits for all affected faculty members, whether they are union members or not. It also means that shared governance and Academic Council would be impacted by the legal obligations associated with unionization.

If a union is voted in, can I negotiate different terms for my own contract?

No. The union would be the sole bargaining agent for every impacted faculty member. Individual faculty members would not be able to negotiate different terms — for pay, teaching responsibilities, professional development and other benefits — specifically for themselves.

How long does the collective bargaining process take?

It depends. Negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement can take months and often takes longer than a year.

Union Election

How do I know if I’m eligible to vote? If I’m eligible, how do I cast a vote?

The National Labor Relations Board will determine which faculty members are eligible to vote on the formation of a labor union based on input from Elon and the SEIU. During a hearing that began December 7, the NLRB will evaluate issues regarding the size and composition of the voting unit. Once the NLRB has resolved all issues, the eligible voters will be notified about their inclusion in the group and will be provided information about how to cast a vote.

Is the university required to provide my personal information to the union in response to the election petition?

Yes. Federal law requires Elon to provide the SEIU with the home addresses, personal email addresses and home and cell phone numbers of all eligible voters.

I signed a union authorization card. Do I have to vote in favor of the union?

No. Each eligible voter can vote “yes” or “no” regardless of whether they signed a union authorization card.

How is the vote determined? Is it a majority of those in the group, or a majority of those who vote?

The decision about whether to use the union as the bargaining representative for the entire group will be determined by the majority of eligible voters who cast ballots. For example, if 100 faculty members are included in the employee unit, but only 20 choose to vote, a union would only need 11 “yes” votes to be certified. Once certified, the union negotiates terms and conditions of employment for all members of the unit, whether they voted for the union or not. That is why it is important for each eligible voter to be informed and to vote.

When will the results of the vote be known?

At the close of the election period, the National Labor Relations Board will tally the ballots and announce the results. A date for this tabulation has not been set.

Can the vote be postponed until the faculty have had time to more carefully consider the impact of unionization?

That decision rests with the SEIU. Once the SEIU has filed a petition, only the SEIU can withdraw it.

If there is an election and faculty vote to not unionize, can there be another election?

Yes. When such an election would take place would depend upon a number of circumstances, but typically, another vote can happen as soon as one year later.