Employees Prepared to “Vote Yes!” to Secure Fair Pay and Safe Working Environments, Protect and Improve Their Benefits, and Ensure the College Upholds its Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

December 17, 2021

LEWISTON, ME — Ballots will be mailed to Bates adjunct faculty and staff members on January 6 to determine if they want to form their union together, the National Labor Relations Board. Votes will be counted on January 31st by the National Labor Relations Board, the neutral third party conducting the secret ballot election.

“We are ready to vote yes to form our union and thrilled to gain the right to collectively bargain with the administration. Forming our union represents a real way for all Bates employees to voice and address the many issues that affect ourselves and our students in a structured, democratic way, and with a more powerful and effective voice than any of us could achieve alone,” said Peter Osborne, Associate Director and Pre-Law Advisor at Bates’ Center for Purposeful Work.

Bates adjunct faculty and staff members, who petitioned the NLRB to form the Bates Educators & Staff Organization [BESO] with the Maine Service Employees Association [MSEA] in October, seek to strengthen their collective voice with a union contract to protect and improve their benefits, secure fair pay and sustainable working conditions, and ensure the College fulfills its commitment to equity and inclusion. 

“There are so many improvements we could make through our union: a hiring policy that rewards previous experience in the field, fair pay differentials for weekend, night, and lead capacity work, having a say over our workloads so management can’t change schedules or add additional job duties without employees’ agreement, bargaining job descriptions to ensure our pay and responsibilities are accurate, transparent wage and salary scales so there’s a fair pay floor, and much more,” said Ian Brownlie, Grounds and Maintenance Worker at Bates.

“After we vote yes to form our union, we’ll have the chance to survey all employees’ priorities and issues, to ensure we all work towards a contract that protects what we love about working at Bates and makes the improvements so many of us need across our campus,” said Darlene Zupancic, Communication and Employment Coordinator at Bates Dining.

Bates employees’ effort to form their “wall-to-wall” union — excluding only campus safety officers, management, and tenured or tenure-track faculty — would be a historic first among private higher education workers in the United States. 

“Our effort to form our union has always included both adjunct faculty and staff. From our first public communication, we were clear about our intent to form a ‘wall-to-wall’ union, and it has always been a whole-campus effort. This reflects our commitment to each other, and our shared belief that we are a stronger institution when the existence and success of our union depends on building relationships and having dialogue across work areas,” said Keiko Konoeda, Adjunct Faculty in Japanese at Bates.

By forming their union, workers seek to establish greater transparency around wages and salaries, reduce wage compression, and ensure Bates rewards workers’ previous experience.

“We are voting yes because through our union we can address the lack of pay transparency at Bates, which allows for significant variation for equal work. Women and people of color especially lose out on equal pay and fair promotions when there are no pay and wage scales, consistent annual raises, and step increases tied to length of service and performance—typical of most union contracts,” said Sam Boss, Adjunct Faculty in the Humanities at Bates’ Harward Center for Community Partnerships
“Some of us get paid differently for similar work, or get paid similarly for different workloads. I know folks who have been promoted from coordinator-level to director-level with no change in compensation and others who aren’t compensated for valuable technical training, additional skill sets, or previous work experience in related fields,” said Eddie Szeman, Bates’ Assistant Director of Residence Life.

“Through our union we could inspire loyalty and encourage excellence by ensuring skills and experience at the College are rewarded fairly. Right now, there’s little reward for longevity of service. Many of us who have been working at Bates for years make little more than new hires. Promotions or switches to lead capacity work don’t always come with a hike in pay,” said Ian Brownlie, Bates Grounds and Maintenance worker. 

“Many of us are mandated to work weekends and nights, for a weak ¢.50 shift differential. We also don’t get overtime after 8 hours. I’ve worked 14-hour days of cold hard snow storm labor and gotten straight pay,” said Jon-Michael Foley, Bates Grounds and Maintenance worker.

Employees are also voting yes to form their union to ensure the College advances its stated commitment to equity and inclusion for all Bates employees. 

“Unionizing with my coworkers has made me feel hope, for the first time, that Bates can center equity and inclusion in a real way. Too many staff of color at Bates have left due to burnout, and this high turnover impacts students, particularly students of color. Too many employees experience pushback when they try to do equity work. Through the right to collectively bargain, we could improve workplace culture for people of color by implementing concrete accountability mechanisms to address discrimination, and by rewarding DEI work or work that requires language and cultural fluency,” said Olivia Orr, Web Designer at Bates’ Communications Office.

“Since Maine is an at-will state, just cause protections against unfair discipline and termination, typical of most union contracts, would add a level of job security so employees feel we can more easily speak up about negative behavior by managers or supervisors without fear of reprisal,” said Julia Panepinto, Assistant Softball Coach at Bates. 

Additionally, employees are forming their union to have a real say in protecting and improving their benefits.

“Last year, the administration stopped paying into our retirement, without consulting us. Although they eventually reinstated it, that was an eye-opener for many employees. With the pressures facing schools like Bates, it’s not hard to imagine big financial decisions being made by Bates in the near future that will affect us and our families. After we vote yes to form our union, we will gain the right to participate in conversations about wages, hours, and working conditions, so Bates will need our input and approval if they want to make any cuts or changes when the going gets tough, said Joe Graziano, Second Cook at Bates Dining.

“Parental leave benefits aren’t what they could be, and limiting bereavement time to immediate family members discounts close relationships we may have with aunts, uncles, cousins, or close friends. Particularly in the middle of a pandemic, it seems right to revisit familial classifications and ask ‘who are we privileging, and who are we forgetting?’” said Szeman. “Shared sick banks are also common at many peer institutions. I’m hopeful that BESO can get to work on bringing that to Bates as well.”

Since Bates employees announced their effort to form a collective voice at Bates, students, alumni, and tenured faculty members have joined together to support them.

75 Bates tenured and tenure-track faculty members signed a petition calling on the administration to remain neutral as adjunct faculty and staff exercise their legal right to form their union. Students have placed thousands of signs across campus expressing their support and held numerous info-sessions for their peers to learn about employees’ effort to form a collective voice at work.
Alumni supporters have started a call-in campaign to Bates President Clayton Spencer, asking her to cease spending educational funds on expensive, external anti-union consultants to dissuade employees from voting to form their union in their upcoming election.

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. On December 8, Lewiston-Auburn area union members, including local firefighters, teachers, public works workers, postal workers, steel and sheet metal workers, machinists, and electrical workers 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.

“The Lewiston-Auburn community has our backs. Our community will benefit from the higher wages and better working conditions we will win by forming our union at Bates College because we Bates employees are residents’ neighbors and friends,” wrote Graziano in a Letter to the Editor published in the Lewiston Sun Journal on November 20.

As reported in the Maine Beacon on November 1 and November 22, the College may be spending 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.