A group called the Bates Educators and Staff Organization (BESO) emerged this week to advocate for the creation of a union for assistant professors and staff members on campus.
Members of the organization include “lay professors, wardens, restaurants, sports, student affairs, library staff and many more – who have been working for over a year to form our union”, according to flyers found on campus.
The group’s mission is to build a unified voice to improve working conditions at Bates and the social, economic, physical and mental well-being of all Bates employees; especially the people who are the most â€œundercompensated and vulnerable among us,â€ the leaflet reads.
BESO flyers and posters were distributed to almost every dormitory on campus. The poster, which the organizers asked the students to hang on their windows, supports the organization. The material was distributed by the Friends of BESO, a non-hierarchical student team that aims to spread awareness and information on the issue across campus.
As the flyers explained, the union “would grant us the right to negotiate democratically and collectively with the College to determine our wages, benefits, hours and working conditions.”
To form a union, employees must have the formal opportunity to discuss and vote.
â€œThis process typically takes 6-8 weeks after filing is complete,â€ said Wilder Geier ’22, who identifies as â€œpart of the student support teamâ€ which is the Friends of BESO.
The leaflet also mentioned departures of teachers and staff:
â€œIn the past year, too many of our colleagues have left due to dissatisfaction, low wages and poor working conditions at the college. The loss of so much talent and expertise has added more work for those of us who remain, diminishing our ability to provide quality learning and living conditions for you, our students.
Organizers also said those supporting the organizing efforts were concerned about the administration’s response.
â€œUnfortunately, the administration is unlikely to support our right to have a democratic voice heard to shape our working conditions and improve your learning and living conditions,â€ wrote the BESO. “The administration will probably try to silence us by intimidating us, questioning us and potentially laughing at us, unless you support us.” “
According to Bangor Daily News, the BESO filed with the National Labor Relations Council organize an election for the union. If successful, the group will organize itself under the MSEA-SEIU Local 1989.
The tenure and tenure professors also signed a petition calling on President Clayton Spencer and college administrators not to interfere in the union campaign.
The petition called on Spencer and the directors to “pledge neutrality” and “officially recognize their union if the National Labor Relations Board certifies that a majority of our union-eligible colleagues have chosen accordingly.”
At Monday’s faculty meeting, full professors Lauren Ashwell, Joseph Hall and Erica Rand expressed their support for the union. Although full and tenure-track professors, as well as coaches, cannot be part of OESO because they are considered executives, they nonetheless urged their peers to sign the petition.
The petition also called on Bates “not to spend university funds to engage in anti-union activities aimed at deceiving, dissuading, coercing or influencing our colleagues, as the Bates administration did in 1999 when 75 restaurant workers tried to unionize “.
Rand, a professor of art and visual culture as well as gender and sexuality studies, spoke specifically of the â€œcoercionâ€ that many faced in 1999. She said that â€œthe Bates administration hired an anti-union law firm â€to affect the vote, and pointed to the petition that asked Spencer and the board to pledge to remain neutral.
Ashwell, associate professor of philosophy, said The student that she heard for the first time about her intention to unionize during the winter 2020 semester; However, she said she “had only heard very recently that this was becoming a reality.”
She supports the union because she believes a “collective has more power to get information from the college and to hold the college accountable when compromises hurt workers who have less power as individuals on our campus.” .
The union vote received praise from lawmakers across the state, including Maine Senate Speaker Troy Jackson.
“Be clear: Bates College workers deserve the opportunity to decide for themselves whether or not Bates educators and staff organization will help them achieve these goals in an environment free of fear and intimidation,” said the state senator in a press release.
Olivia Orr, Web Designer in the Office of Communications, is one of the people who organize the BESO. She said The student that the first conversations started over a year ago, but “things got serious from the end of July, the beginning of August, when our internal organizing committee – as it existed at the time – had first met MSEA “.
Orr said the union “will give us the opportunity to negotiate a wage scale and increases, job security, pay equity and working conditions at Bates.”
As a black woman, Orr said she was “particularly frustrated with the revolving door of professors and staff of color.”
She added, â€œPoor retention is not only detrimental to staff and faculty, but also to students. Students of color arrive on campus hoping for support while they are here. I can’t imagine how disheartening it must be to see the support staff change from year to year.
Orr thinks organizing a union is one way to push Bates in the right direction.
â€œI believe in the Bates community,â€ she said. â€œMy colleagues, not just on my team, but across campus, are an amazing bunch. I am continually amazed and impressed with the students. I want Bates to be a place where everyone feels heard, seen and safe; we will all be better at it.
Frances Eanes is a visiting assistant professor in environmental studies and a member of BESO. Despite being one of the group members who spoke to the press, Eanes pointed to the collaborative nature of the union push.
â€œIt’s actually a very distributed and collaborative project, the beginning really kept that spirit from an organic start,â€ he said. â€œI am one of dozens of people who have spent hours and hours talking not only to each other, but also to our colleagues. It is a truly democratic process.
Eanes is cautiously optimistic that the administration will consider the petition signed by the full and tenure faculty members, as well as pressure from students and alumni.
â€œI really hope that they will answer the calls from the students, they will answer the increasing calls from the alumni,â€ he said. “More than half of our tenure and tenure faculty have now signed a petition calling on the administration to remain neutral, and I truly believe they can respect that.”
Friends of BESO
The student posted a letter today in support of the staff union campaign signed by 14 Friends of BESO students.
The Friends of BESO letter states that students support workers and educators because they are â€œthe heart of Bates Collegeâ€. One of the main grievances is that the administration needs to put more emphasis on the well-being of the employees.
â€œThese workers are the college,â€ the students wrote. â€œWhen they are undervalued and exploited, as they have been for too long, our institution suffers. In the past year, too many workers have left due to dissatisfaction, low wages and poor working conditions at the College, and students have felt the sting at IOE, universities, the athletics and in many other areas. “
â€œWorkers and educators of color as well as LGBTQ + and workers with disabilities face deep institutional barriers and hostility,â€ continued Friends of BESO. â€œAs students, we must take advantage of the capacity of collective bargaining to generate a safe and respectful environment that seeks fairness and the liberation of workers and students. With the right to bargain collectively, workers can do justice, not just hear about it. “
The situation appears to be relatively urgent, especially as Bates student organizations are posting messages stating that they stand in solidarity with college workers – including, but not limited to, the Bates Environmental Coalition, the Bates Outing Club. , Bates College Radio and Bates OutFront.
â€œThe pandemic has disproportionately affected people on low incomes,â€ said Diana Georges, another Friends of BESO member. â€œBates had a hiring freeze and a raise freeze until recently. So when employees were expected to take risks and do more work than before to meet health guidelines, the College did not respond appropriately. In reaction and in combination with other issues, staff and faculty across campus have left in the past few months. “
â€œBates is understaffed in several departments and the employees who are here deserve to feel the dignity and respect of the community,â€ continued Georges. â€œSupporting the union is directly supporting the people who make Bates run. “