Pro BESO and What’s New in Union Busting

As a student, I am firmly in support of Bates Educators and Staff Organization and their formation of a union. I have seen how low pay and difficult labor conditions have led to a large amount of turnover in my time here. 

This turnover affects all of us, but it is especially obvious in the Office of Intercultural Education. First generation students and students of color were told that they had staff members they could trust there, but in reality they are expected to form new relationships with new staff every year to feel supported, which can be exhausting. 

I have been employed on campus in a variety of ways. My freshman year, I worked as a student sweeper. This job meant that I worked closely with custodial staff. When we got sent home for COVID-19 that year, I had a conversation with a custodial staff member who completely broke down because they had no idea what would happen with their employment or their child’s schooling. 

Last year, I worked with EasyEats as a delivery driver in the Den and got to know many of the people who work there. Many of them work multiple jobs and have dependents to care for. It is clear to me that unionization would benefit employees greatly, given that unions lead to better pay, paid leave, and health care. 

I also want to acknowledge the concerns I’ve heard from some students about unionization. One of those concerns is that if wages go up for staff, then tuition must go up. While I understand that none of us want to pay more tuition, I also think this fear is unfounded. 

Bates has multiple revenue streams that are not limited to tuition. I’m not promising anything about what will happen with Bates’ comprehensive fee in the future, but we know that Bates has to compete with other similarly priced universities. 

Vice President for Finance and Administration Geoffrey Swift told The Student in a September statement that the goal is “to moderate tuition as much as we can, price fairly, and be able to generate the resources necessary to provide a top flight residential liberal arts education.” A large sudden increase in tuition would certainly interfere with this goal. I predict tuition will increase by about 3% as it has in the past several years, and this increase will have nothing to do with unionization. 

Another common sentiment I’ve heard is that folks don’t want to align themselves with The Bates Leftist Coalition (BLC) for some reason or another. What is key to remember is that BESO and Friends of BESO are not the same thing as BLC. BLC is just one campus group that is involved in supporting BESO. Supporting the unionization efforts is not the same as supporting BLC. 

Some students are also confused about what exactly is being asked of the administration. The demands from BESO and their allies are simple: that the administration remain neutral in allowing employees to decide if they wish to be represented by a union and not engaging in union busting techniques. 

Professor Erica Rand previously told The Student that Bates “hired a union busting law firm” in 1999 when dining workers attempted to unionize. BESO’s hope – and mine – is that Bates does not repeat this behavior. 

I think it’s important to pay attention to how union busting is taking place elsewhere in the nation to be able to spot its techniques. Union busting has been happening for as long as unionization has been happening, and some of its practices have remained the same for many years. 

For instance, I would bet upwards of $100 that Bates will offer a wage increase to hourly facilities and/or dining workers very soon. This is a way of discouraging unionization by being able to say, look, we are already giving you increased wages, and you don’t need a union to get that. 

However, these increases are typically small and don’t guarantee further increases in the future. Unionized workers earn 11.2% more in wages than their non unionized peers on average. 

A union isn’t just about increasing wages, but the promise of higher pay is often used to manipulate workers out of unionizing. 

Am I sitting in on any decision making meetings, and do I have the financial acumen to know exactly how this will play out? Of course not. I want to make it clear that my belief is purely speculation. However, I have studied union busting enough that I suspect this is a move Bates will make.

No Evil Foods, a vegan meat company, recently saw a unionization effort by workers that failed during its voting process. This vote took place, however, after a series of anti-union meetings where management disguised their anti-union propaganda as “education.” 

These meetings characterized unions as businesses that stand in the way of the relationship between workers and management. Executives told employees that they would “start at zero” in the bargaining process. Labor law prohibits employers from threatening to take away benefits from workers who support unionization. 

However, nothing is guaranteed in negotiation, and it is understandable that employees want to keep what they are already given. The bottom line is that BESO has already committed to not compromising on any benefits in negotiation; flyers from BESO were distributed at Friday’s demonstration stated “when we form a union we start negotiations from our current wages, benefits, and working conditions– and bargain upwards!” 

At No Evil Foods, management also over-exaggerated the cost of union dues and characterized unions as being for white men. Contrary to that implication, according to a 2020 report from the Economic Policy Institute,  “unions and collective bargaining help shrink the Black–white wage gap.” That same report stated that unionized women have 5.8% higher hourly wages on average than comparable non-unionized women. 

We should be very suspicious of any attempts by anyone besides employees and BESO themselves to engage in “education” about what a union will mean. Many union busting techniques are illegal, but there is an ever-changing landscape of ways to work around these laws and create new critiques of unionization. As convincing as they may seem, they are all deployed to intimidate employees to prevent them from achieving the full rights available to them. 

TLDR: Dear Students, I support BESO fully. Even if you don’t, you should support each employee’s right to choose their representation without interference from the administration. Dear Administration, now that we all know a little more about union busting…we’re looking at you.