Despite New Limitations Against In-Person Audiences, Spectators, Guests, and Visitors at the College, Bates Administrators “Strongly Encourage” Hourly Staff to Gather for In-Person Anti-Union Meetings With Expensive Boston Labor Consultant Katie Lev

January 4, 2022

By Ramona du Houx

LEWISTON, ME — On January 3, 2022, Bates College administrators sent an email to Bates hourly staff, strongly urging them to attend in-person anti-union meetings this week with out-of-state labor consultant Katie Lev of Lev Labor LLC, despite updated College restrictions on in-person gatherings and outside visitors, established by the College to protect public health during students’ return to campus amid the highly contagious omicron variant surge.  Ahead of employees’ mail-in union election, set to begin this Thursday, January 6th, the College scheduled in-person meetings and “drop in hours” with Lev, increasing the likelihood of community spread as COVID-19 positivity rates continue to rise across Androscoggin county.

To ensure hourly staff are exposed to anti-union talking points before their upcoming union election, the College has made an exception to its own public health policy, endangering its employees, students, and the community at large. Salaried employees were sent similar details to meetings and information sessions—but held over zoom. 

On December 29th, 2021, Bates College Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Geoffrey Swift shared a “Faculty and Staff Update: Winter Semester Plans” with all staff members, detailing Bates’ new COVID-19 safety precautions.

According to the update, Bates’ new “Public Health Policies” allow only “students, faculty, and staff” inside on-campus buildings to protect against the further spread of COVID-19.

“Guests and visitors may not be in campus buildings until further notice. This limitation includes audience members for musical performances, theater and dance productions, and art exhibits, as well as spectators at athletic events,” wrote Swift.

In yesterday’s email to hourly staff, Bates administrators shared details about the upcoming meetings with Lev and urged hourly staff to attend, despite the new health policies against gatherings and outside visitors. “These sessions have been scheduled to provide opportunities that work with the schedules of the majority of employees, and you are strongly encouraged to attend,” wrote Assistant Vice President of Human Resources & Environmental Health and Safety Hope Burnell.
Bates staff expressed their concern at administrators’ willingness to risk their lives to push back against their effort to form a collective voice.

“If the administration says it’s unsafe for students to have in-person classes, for large gatherings to take place, and for outside visitors to be on campus, then anti-union meetings with an out-of-state consultant should be off the table. The College’s choice to violate its own covid policy, to push against our right to unionize free from undue influence or interference, places us, our students, and the community at risk. This only proves to us how important it is that we have a voice in the workplace decisions that affect us, our students, our families, and our neighbors too,” said Julia Panepinto, Assistant Softball Coach at Bates and BESO Organizer. 

Bates administrators’ scheduling of in-person “drop in hours” with Lev within 24 hours of union election ballots being sent to employees may also represent a violation of federal labor law, which stipulates employers may not “Make an election speech on company time to a massed assembly of employees within 24 hours of the election.” 

The College has already faced numerous charges of violating federal labor law in their effort to suppress employees’ legal right to unionize through illegal intimidation tactics, as reported in the Lewiston Sun Journal on October 19th, 2021 and Mainebiz on October 20th, 2021. The NLRB is currently conducting its investigation into the charges, which include ample evidence showing the College illegally threatened employees with adverse consequences, such as the loss of benefits and termination, and maintained and enforced a discriminatory no-solicitation rule, to prevent employees from exercising their legal right to unionize. 

As reported on November 1 and November 22, the College may be spending multiple thousands of dollars per day on external anti-union consultants hired to spread fear and misinformation about unionizing, targeting staff members in the lowest-paid positions. In addition to Lev, the College has consulted with Carol Holland, a union-busting expert from the hospital industry, who armed supervisors with misinformation about unions to spread confusion and fear amongst workers.

Bates students and alumni have rallied to support workers by calling Bates President Clayton Spencer’s office, asking her to cease spending educational funds on expensive, external anti-union consultants to dissuade employees from exercising their legal right to unionize together. Community members have also rallied to support Bates educators and staff, posting “We Back Bates Workers” signs throughout Androscoggin County, to celebrate employees’ historic unionization effort and call on the Bates administration to respect employees’ legal right to form their union.

Student and alumni supporters have been joined by Lewiston-Auburn area union members, including local firefighters, teachers, public works workers, postal workers, steel and sheet metal workers, machinists, and electrical workers, who on December 8th, 2021 shared a letter of support to Bates employees in anticipation of their union election. Lewiston-Auburn union members’ letter of support is available upon request.

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