Students Demonstrate in Support of BESO


Max Devon/The Bates Student

Demonstrators chanted slogans in support of the BESO’s unionization efforts, urging the administration to take a neutral stance.

On Thursday October 7, 2021 from 10:45 to 1:00 PM, approximately 50 students gathered outside of Pettengill Hall chanting slogans such as, “What do we want? Transparency! When do we want it? Now!” Drums and  loud music were all part of showing solidarity and emphasizing the student voice in Bates Faculty and Staff’s efforts to unionize.

A group of students organized the picket after hearing from workers in favor of a union that the Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Geoffrey Swift and other Bates administration members would be holding an alleged anti-union meeting featuring management-side legal counsel from Boston. The meeting took place on the same Thursday during the time of the picket in the Moody Room in Pettengill Hall. 

Over the past year, the Bates Faculty and Staff have been working towards creating a union on campus, granting them the means to negotiate their rights and abilities as Bates workers. According to a Bates Educators and Staff Organization (BESO) email to the Sun Journal, on October 8 Bates College employees filed for a second petition for a union vote to the National Labor Relations Board. 

News of the demonstration was spread by word of mouth, and through private channels excluding listservs and social media. This was done in order to prevent management from finding out about the event and changing the location or time of the meeting, said Tasha Kaluzynski ’22.

“I know high turnover, low pay, and short staffing, some of the issues workers are organizing to be able to collectively address, deeply impact students’ experience as well as workers,” Kaluzynski said. “Office of Intercultural Education turnover leaves marginalized student groups, particularly first generation, international, Black, indigenous, and students of color, without a stable support system on campus. Many students are not able to complete their majors because of adjunct professor turnover.”

They acknowledged that students are in a position of privilege on campus to not experience institutional backlash when banding together to fight for a cause.

“We have a responsibility to use that collective voice to help others win theirs. The picket was intended to put pressure on management to stop this unacceptable behavior,” they said. “Not only is it the right thing to do, but the administration should also fulfill their previous commitments to upholding free speech by committing to neutrality and letting workers make this choice for themselves, free from interference or misinformation.”

In addition to the picket, posters were left at each dorm room for students to hang up, and chalk statements of support were written on the brick walls in the library arcade and outside commons. 

A speech written by the friends of BESO was also read to the Dining Services Director Christine Schwartz and was posted on the group’s Instagram. The speech highlighted how the administration has not been acknowledging the concerns of faculty and staff, and emphasized the student support of the unionizing efforts.

“We are here today on behalf of all Bates students and in solidarity with the essential workers in dining who keep us nourished and cared for, day in and day out,” the speech said. “It is shocking and disappointing that we even have to be here today, asking for the bare minimum in terms of respect and upholding our values. We demand you uphold neutrality towards workers who care for and untrue us as they exercise the right to talk to each other about forming a collective voice.”

Multiple students who were contacted had negative opinions regarding the disruptiveness of the protest. Another concern was that the picket and the Friends of BESO content could be taken the wrong way, citing that students’ efforts should be to support the faculty and staff’s efforts to unionize. No students were willing to disclose their identities when saying this information due to the concern of receiving backlash. 

Riley Gramley ’25 said that while he supports the faculty and staff’s efforts to unionize, he was concerned about student response to the cause. 

“I found the protests to be both confounding and confirming considering the context of the union efforts. I question why students create noise and disrupt classes if faculty and staff’s objective choice in the creation of a union is the students’ goal?”

Gramley then added, “However, I find the union efforts important and understand why students like myself should be concerned about the existence of intimidation at the administrative level. I am mostly concerned with students getting in the way and I hope we do as we expect the administration does: stay neutral.”

Maria Mcevoy ’25 heard about the efforts from one of her professors. The union and students as a whole have power over the administration and how they can be held accountable, she said.

“The picket was cool to be a part of. For me especially, I am almost on complete financial aid, but what I do pay I’ve paid out of pocket by having jobs. I sort of feel like that money which I worked my ass off for is being used to screw over people that I would be coworkers with. I worked minimum wage jobs for the past four years in order to be here, and seeing that money being put into screwing these people over is not cool to me.”

While there was support at the picket, Mcevoy had wished that it had been more advertised and the objective of the picket was clearer. While she knew that the workers were asking students to picket, from the outside it looked like an insular group of students who were acting in agitation for no apparent reason. 

On Blind Tiger, a social media platform where users can share their opinions anonymously about events on campus, news and reactions of the protest were able to spread quickly through the student body. But, there is still no way to access the overall timeline of the faculty and staff’s efforts and how students can show support.

“It’s just about educating people, you know? I wish that there was just more unbiased information about the union efforts because I feel like it’s such a hot topic and everyone who’s talking about it is very invested,” Mcevoy said. “At the picket, I just wanted to be there and talk to people. Everyone was super friendly and very knowledgeable and helpful.”