Bates Faculty and Staff Promote the Organization of a Union


Najá Crockett/The Bates Student

The chalk outside of Commons is just one of numerous places that messages of support for BESO can be found around campus.

A group called the Bates Educators and Staff Organization (BESO) has emerged this week advocating for the creation of a union for adjunct faculty and staff members on campus. 

Members of the organization include “non-tenure track faculty, custodial, dining, athletics, student affairs, library staff, and many more—who have been working for over a year to form our union,” according to flyers found across campus.

The group’s mission is to build a unified voice to improve labor conditions at Bates and the social, economic, physical and mental well-being of all Bates employees; especially individuals who are the most “under-compensated and vulnerable among us,” the flyer read. 

BESO flyers and posters have been distributed to almost every dorm on campus. The poster, which organizers asked students to hang in their windows, lends support for the organization. The materials have been distributed by the Friends of BESO, a non-hierarchical team of students that aims to spread awareness and information about the issue across campus. 

As the flyers explained, the union “would grant us the right to democratically and collectively negotiate with the College to determine our wages, benefits, hours, and working conditions.” 

To form a union, employees need to have a formal opportunity to discuss and take a vote. 

“This process generally takes 6-8 weeks once filing is done,” said Wilder Geier ‘22, who identifies as “part of the student support team” that is the Friends of BESO.

The flyer also referenced faculty and staff departures:

“Over the past year, too many of our coworkers have left due to dissatisfaction, low pay, and poor working conditions at the college. Losing so much talent and expertise has added more work for those of us who remain, diminishing our capacity to provide quality learning and living conditions for you, our students.” 

Organizers also said that individuals supporting the efforts to unionize felt concerned about the administration’s response.

“Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the administration will support our right to build a democratic voice to shape our working conditions and improve your learning and living conditions,” wrote the BESO. “The administration will likely try to shut us down by intimidating, interrogating, and potentially retaliating against us—unless you have our backs.”

According to Bangor Daily News, the BESO filed with the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election for the union. If successful, the group will organize under the MSEA-SEIU Local 1989. 

Tenured and tenure-track faculty have also signed a petition asking President Clayton Spencer and the college’s trustees not to interfere in the union drive.

The petition asked that Spencer and the trustees “commit to neutrality” and “officially recognize their union should the National Labor Relations Board certify that a majority of our union-eligible colleagues have chosen accordingly.”

In a statement provided by Media Relations Specialist, Mary Pols, the College shared that “Late Tuesday afternoon, Bates received formal notice from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that a petition has been filed on behalf of the non-tenured and non-tenure-track faculty, instructors, and lecturers to be represented for purposes of collective bargaining by the Maine Service Employees Association, SEIU Local 1989” on Oct. 5. 

Bates College added that, “Bates will protect the rights of every eligible employee to organize and to vote in a secret ballot election. As part of its fiduciary duty and in accordance with the law, the college will also share factual information and correct any misinformation to ensure that employees have a comprehensive and accurate understanding of what it means to be represented by a union, including the employment conditions under which a union operates. The college’s goal is to support individuals in making an informed decision about whether or not they wish to be represented by a union.”

In Monday’s faculty meeting, tenured professors Lauren Ashwell, Joseph Hall and Erica Rand voiced their support for the union. Though tenure and tenure-track professors, as well as coaches, cannot be a part of the BESO because they are considered management, they still urged their peers to sign the petition.

The petition also asked that Bates “not spend any college funds to engage in anti-union activities designed to mislead, dissuade, coerce, or otherwise influence our colleagues, as the Bates administration did in 1999 when 75 dining workers attempted to unionize.”

Rand, a professor in Art & Visual Culture as well as Gender and Sexuality Studies, spoke specifically about the “coercion” that many faced in 1999. She said the “Bates administration hired a union busting law firm” to affect the vote, and pointed to the petition that asked Spencer and the board of trustees to commit to remaining neutral.

Ashwell, an associate professor of philosophy, told The Student that she first heard of plans to unionize during the winter semester in 2020; however, she said that she “only heard that this was moving forward as a concrete reality very recently.”

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 trade-offs harm those workers who have less power as individuals on our campus.”

The union vote has received praise from lawmakers across the state, including Maine Senate President Troy Jackson.

“Let me be clear–the workers at Bates College deserve the opportunity to decide for themselves whether or not the Bates Educators and Staff Organization will help them achieve these goals in an environment free of fear and intimidation,” the state senator said in a statement.

The BESO Organizers

Olivia Orr, a web designer in the Communications Office, is one of the individuals organizing the BESO. She told The Student that first conversations started over a year ago, but “things got serious starting in late July, early August, when our internal Organizing Committee–as it existed then–first met with [the Maine State Employees Association].” 

Orr explained that the union “would give us the opportunity to bargain wage scale and increases, job security, pay equity, and working conditions at Bates.” 

As a Black femme woman, Orr stated that she is “particularly frustrated by the revolving door of faculty and staff of color.”

She added, “the poor retention is not only harmful to staff and faculty, but also to students. Students of color arrive on campus with the expectation that they will be supported during their time here. I can’t imagine how disheartening it must be to see the support staff change year after year.”

Orr believes organizing a union is a way to push Bates in the right direction.

“I believe in the Bates community,” she said. “My colleagues–not just on my team, but across the entire campus–are an incredible bunch. I am continually amazed and impressed by the students. I want Bates to be a place where everyone feels heard, seen and safe; we’ll all be better for it.”

Frances Eanes is a visiting assistant professor of environmental studies as well as a member of the BESO. Though he is one of the members of the group that has spoken to the press, Eanes emphasized the collaborative nature of the union push.

“It’s actually been a very distributed and collaborative project, the beginning really held that spirit from an organic start,” he said. “I’m one of literally dozens who have put hours and hours of time into talking not just to each other, but to our coworkers. It’s a really democratic process.” 

Eanes is cautiously optimistic that the administration will take into consideration the petition signed by tenure and tenure-track faculty members, as well as pushes from students and alumni.

“I’m really hopeful that they’ll respond to the calls from students, they’ll respond to the growing calls from alumni,” he said. “More than half of our tenured and tenure-track faculty now have signed a petition calling on the administration to remain neutral, and I really believe that they can respect that.”


Some employees, like Sandy Brooks, are opposed to the union. Brooks has worked cleaning the Village for four years, and says that although the idea of the union first appealed to her, she’s worried that some of her benefits may disappear. 

“My benefits that I have now all could get put back on the table, so I could lose all those perks that I have right now,” she said. “They may say, ‘well if we’re going to give you $17 [per hour], we’re not going to give you two weeks off for Christmas paid and we’re not going to give you certain holidays anymore.’”

Brooks is happy with her benefits. She said Bates fully funds her pension and contributes to a lot, including almost fully funding her insurance. 

“It’s kind of scary to me that I could lose some of those things,” she said.

When she started having these concerns, Brooks said she spoke to a coworker who was pro-union, who she says made her feel “harassed” about it, and repeatedly asked her if she had been intimidated by a supervisor. She has not heard anything about the issue from any members of management, and says she has not been intimidated or spoken to by anyone higher up about the union.

Currently, Brooks makes $15.59 an hour; she has received two raises this year alone. In her mind, getting a raise to $17.00 an hour is nice, but not worth the hassle and the union dues, especially since she hopes to keep getting raises year by year.

Union dues are a regular payment of money made by members of a union, as a form of cost of membership. They are used to fund various activities the union engages in.

“It makes me a little leery of putting everything that we have on the table for less than $1.50,” she said. “And for me, I feel like at least half of that is going to dues. So then you’re talking 75 cents, I’m going to get an extra 75 cents, but I’ll probably get that in raises by next year anyways.”

Brooks is happy with her pay, benefits, and how she is treated by her employer; she’s concerned that the union will change that.

“Bates is a great place to work for, and I just kind of feel like it’s getting a really negative treatment,” she said.

NOTE from The Student: Employee benefits cannot be threatened or removed before the union vote or during unionization. Brooks’ concerns are that should the union vote pass, during negotiations for the hourly raise to be increased to $17.00 per hour, other benefits will be sacrificed. Additionally, employers are not allowed to threaten employee benefits in regard to union activity, nor are they allowed to offer benefits/coerce people with promises of benefits if they do not unionize.

The Friends of BESO

The Student published a letter on Oct. 6, written and signed by 14 members of the Friends of BESO student group, in support of the staff’s union drive. 

 The Friends of BESO letter states that students stand by workers and educators, since they are “the heart of Bates College.” One of the main grievances is that the administration needs to place more emphasis on the well-being of employees.

“These workers are the college,” the students wrote. “When they are undervalued and exploited, as they have been for too long, our institution suffers. Over the past year, too many workers have left due to dissatisfaction, low pay, and poor working conditions at the College, and students have felt the sting of that in the OIE, in academics, in athletics, and many other spaces.”

“Workers and educators of color as well as LGBTQ+ and disabled workers face deep institutional barriers and hostility,” the Friends of BESO continued. “As students, we must embrace the capacity of collective bargaining to generate a safe, respectful environment that  pursues equity and liberation for workers and students alike. With the right to collectively bargain, workers can enact justice, not just hear about it.”

Various Bates student organizations have also made posts stating that they stand in solidarity with workers at the College — including but not limited to the Bates Environmental Coalition, Bates Outing Club, Bates College Radio and Bates OutFront.

“The pandemic disproportionately affected low-income people,” said Diana Georges, another Friends of BESO member. “Bates had a hiring freeze and raise freeze until recently. So, when it was expected that employees risk themselves and do more work than before to meet health guidelines, the College didn’t respond appropriately. As a reaction and in combination with other issues, staff and faculty from across campus have left over the last few months.”

“Bates is understaffed in multiple departments and the employees that are here deserve to feel dignity and respect from the community,” Georges continued. “Supporting the union is directly supporting the people that make it possible for Bates to function.”