The media storm has quieted since the death of Mary Margaret Vojtko, a Duquesne University adjunct whose story became a symbol of the financial struggles of part-time faculty across the country. But efforts to rally public support to cajole Duquense into recognizing the adjuncts' union have spilled into an online petition that has received over 17,000 signatures since Sept. 20.
"When it hit 15,000 I was really surprised,” says Josh Zelesnick, a former Duquesne adjunct who is active in the unionization effort and wrote the petition.
“We’re trying to get in communication with the administration right now," Zelesnick says. "If for some reason that fails, we hope to use [the petition] to help motivate them to sit down and talk with us.”
The petition is addressed to Duquesne president Charles J. Dougherty, and asks that "you stop refusing to recognize your part-time faculty’s democratically elected union, and bargain a fair contract in good faith."
Duquesne has argued it should be exempt from the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board on religious grounds. The university did not respond to requests for comment.
But Zelesnick's petition points out that Georgetown University, also a Catholic institution, voluntarily recognized its adjunct union, "citing their 'Just Employment Clause' rooted in Catholic Social Teaching that defends the right for workers to organize and the right to a living wage."
And the petition is a sign that the public agrees, Zelesnick says.
"It does show that people support this union that we democratically elected and that the university should follow its Catholic teaching if it's a Catholic university."
Asked whether he thinks the petition will change the university's stance, he says "It's just another avenue to explore. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t."