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Part-Time Faculty Association at Columbia College Chicago v. Columbia College Chicago

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

June 15, 2018

Part-Time Faculty Association at Columbia College Chicago, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Columbia College Chicago, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued May 31, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 1:17-cv-513 - John J. Tharp, Jr., Judge.

          Before Flaum, Manion, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.

          Flaum, Circuit Judge.

         This case involves a labor dispute between Columbia College Chicago ("CCC" or "the College") and one of its employee unions, the Part-Time Faculty Association at Columbia College Chicago ("PFAC"), over the representation of full-time staff members who also teach part-time. A Regional Director ("the Director") of the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB" or "the Board") ruled that such employees were included in PFAC's bargaining unit for the purposes of their part-time faculty duties. An independent arbitrator disagreed. After PFAC filed a federal suit to confirm the arbitration, the district court gave precedence to the Director's decision and vacated the award. We affirm.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         CCC operates a private university in Chicago that focuses on the arts and media. It employs approximately 220 full-time faculty, 1, 000 part-time faculty, and 700 staff (350 full-time and 350 part-time). PFAC represents part-time faculty for the purposes of collective bargaining. A separate union, the United Staff of Columbia College ("USCC"), represents both full- and part-time staff members.[1] This case involves a dispute over the collective bargaining representation of a unique hybrid category of approximately 50 to 75 employees who work as both full-time staff and part-time faculty, referred to as "Full Time Staff Who Teach" ("FTST").

         The record is divided as to whether, prior to 2015, it was informally understood that PFAC represented FTST in their capacity as part-time faculty. On one hand, at the time of PFAC's original certification in 1998, it sent a written invitation to all part-time faculty, including FTST, to become union members. Following PFAC's certification, CCC also applied the union's wage scale and other contractual benefits (such as tuition remission and sick and personal leave) to both exclusive part-time faculty and FTST. Additionally, PFAC's former president and lead negotiator for its first three collective bargaining agreements considered FTST as part of the bargaining unit. At the same time, the President of CCC wrote to a group of FTST in 2014 that "[t]he College has never recognized nor does it agree to voluntarily recognize [FTST] either as members of the PFAC bargaining unit or as an independent union." Moreover, CCC never placed any FTST on the "unit eligibility list" that it provided to PFAC each semester, and it did not accord FTST any seniority within the PFAC bargaining unit. Finally, FTST did not pay PFAC union dues.

         The recognition clause in PFAC's collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") is equally equivocal. That clause states:

The Unit includes all part-time faculty members who have completed teaching at least (1) semester at Columbia College Chicago, excluding all other employees, full-time faculty, artists-in-residence, and Columbia College Chicago graduate students, part-time faculty members teaching only continuing education, music lessons to individual students or book and paper making classes, Columbia College Chicago full-time staff members, teachers employed by Erickson Institute, the YMCA or Alder [sic] Planetarium, and other individuals not appearing on the Columbia College Chicago payroll, managers and confidential employees, guards, and supervisors as defined in the [National Labor Relations Act].

(emphasis added). FTST are part-time faculty members who have generally taught at least one semester at the College, and thus arguably fall under the scope of the general inclusion provision. However, FTST also qualify as full-time staff members, which are expressly excluded from representation.

         In February 2015, USCC petitioned the NLRB under § 9 of the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA") to add FTST to its existing bargaining unit via a self-determination election. See 29 U.S.C. § 159. The petition was originally dismissed on the ground that FTST were already represented by PFAC. However, that dismissal was later revoked and the petition reinstated so that evidence on the issue could be presented. The Director conducted a twelve-day evidentiary hearing, during which numerous CCC employees testified about terms and conditions of employment at the College.

         PFAC intervened in the Board proceedings and claimed that it did not represent FTST. It argued that FTST did not share a "community of interest" with other part-time faculty and that their inclusion in the bargaining unit would "destabilize" the existing contract between PFAC and the College. It also asserted that including FTST "would create a minority union to compete with an ...

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