In my opinion, the administration is anti-union, and they’re not good at hiding it.
Despite the insistence from the administration that “every employee has the right to support or not support the union and to express their point of view. Bates will not tolerate or engage in interference with these rights, and [they] will respect the outcome of the election,” their actions are clearly anti-union.
Discriminatory Enforcement of Solicitation Policy
A recent article in The Student reported that Jon Michael Foley, a grounds and maintenance worker, “specifically encountered intimidating exchanges between himself and members of management…the maintenance crew was sent to do a project while the manager spoke to Foley alone. He was told that he ‘wasn’t allowed to use the internet [at Bates] to coordinate’ or ‘speak to anybody while they were on the clock.”
Bates classifies this as solicitation. The Employee Handbook prohibits solicitation during working time. Bates’ definition of solicitation is: “approaching anyone for any of the following purposes: offering anything for sale, asking for donation, collecting funds, canvassing or seeking to promote, encouraging or discouraging (i) participation in order support for any organization, activity, or event, or (ii) membership in any organization or group. Handing out or delivering membership cards or applications for any organization is considered solicitation.”
BESO organizers claim that Bates unequally enforces its anti solicitation policy. They claim that “the college has not broadly enforced its solicitation policy in the past for matters such as selling Girl Scout cookies, asking someone to attend an event, or sign a petition” according to a recent press release from MSEA SEIU Local 1989. I believe this claim as it comes from employees who would know how solicitation policies have been enforced, but I have no direct knowledge about previous enforcements of the policy.
Restrictions on General Conversation
It’s also important to note that Bates doesn’t enforce any policy banning employees from speaking about non-work related topics. According to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), “restrictions on your efforts to communicate with co-workers cannot be discriminatory. For example, your employer cannot prohibit you from talking about the union during working time if it permits you to talk about other non-work-related matters during working time.”
So how does Bates get around this requirement while banning organizing during work hours as solicitation? The Live QandA states that while solicitation is banned, “there are no restrictions on general conversations about the union during working time provided work itself is not interrupted by such conversation.” However, the situation that Foley described where he wasn’t allowed to “speak to anybody while they were on the clock” sounds to me like a restriction on general conversation as opposed to a restriction on solicitation.
Ian Brownlie, a grounds and maintenance worker, told The Bangor Daily News that “multiple staff members were also told by a manager that they could potentially lose benefits if a union is approved.”
According to the NLRB, The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) prohibits employers from “threatening employees with adverse consequences, such as…loss of benefits…if they support a union, engage in union activity, or select a union to represent them.”
Firstly, if Bates doesn’t enforce solicitation policies in instances like selling girl scout cookies, then they are discriminatorily enforcing their policy specifically to inhibit union organizing. That discrimination violates labor law. Secondly, if Bates is preventing conversation about unionization, they are contradicting their own policy, and if Foley’s claims are able to be substantiated, they are violating labor law. Thirdly, if management is threatening the loss of benefits in the event of unionization, they’re violating labor law in that way as well. Bates has stated that they will not interfere with the right to organize, and if BESO organizers’ accusations are true, they have clearly interfered.
This is why BESO organizers filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against Bates. This means that the NLRB will investigate the charges that BESO has brought forward and determine if Bates has indeed violated labor law. I think I’ve made a clear case that if the behaviors Bates has been accused of did indeed occur, as Foley and Brownlie have stated, they have violated the NLRA.Of course, this is for the NLRB to decide through an investigation.
How else is Bates potentially acting in ways to inhibit union organizing? Nicholas DiGiovanni, the lawyer that met with President Clayton Spencer and other members of the administration, is clearly an employer-side lawyer who has some interesting background with union efforts.
The Student reported that DiGiovanni “successfully litigated at the National Labor Relations Board the managerial status of all full time faculty members at Tufts University Medical School and Elmira College.” For those unfamiliar with the legal vernacular surrounding labor, what this means is that he successfully prevented unionization by making the case that full time faculty are managers, given their influence over matters such as curriculum and student affairs, and managerial staff are not eligible to unionize.
He’s also written several articles available online. In one 2015 article, he writes that “a sprawling movement to organize adjunct and part-time faculty throughout the country has already brought academic collective bargaining to numerous institutions that heretofore only had to deal with the occasional staff union.”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t love the way the phrase “had to deal with” is hitting my ear. This clearly characterizes unions as something difficult for colleges to handle and is an employer side perspective, which is expected from an employer side lawyer.
Now let’s take a look at a brief excerpt from another paper he wrote:
“It is quite another to contend that a Ph.D or Masters level professional with a range of employment options who chooses to work part time by teaching a few courses at the college level should receive a ‘living wage.’ While adjuncts will contend that they cannot secure full time teaching positions, there does come the harsh reality that if one is in a certain employment sector and full time work is not a viable option, then a professional may have to consider other life choices. It is not an institutional responsibility to turn part-time compensation into a full time salary.”
To be clear, Bates does not employ any part-time adjuncts, so this opinion doesn’t directly transfer to any of the conditions at Bates. However, it’s very concerning to me that the College has acquired the services of someone who fully believes that people with Ph.D’s (that are highly specialized, created by colleges themselves, and often put people in debt), who usually have to do adjunct work before they can secure a tenure track position anywhere, don’t deserve a living wage for their work.
Having a Ph.D doesn’t necessarily make you qualified for a range of employment options, in fact in some ways the specialization of a Ph.D program limits your professional options. Beyond that, the argument he makes here is just immoral and disgusting to me, as it belittles the work that adjuncts do and blames them for the circumstances of the job market that factually exploits contingent faculty labor.
From his record finding loopholes to prevent unionization and the articles he has written that belittle academic work, it’s clear to me that DiGiovanni has the best interests of the administration, and not the employees, in mind. Unionization is against the interest of the administration despite their insistence that they believe all workers should have a right to choose.
Tenured professor Erica Rand previously told The Student that Bates “hired a union busting law firm” in 1999 when dining workers attempted to unionize. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it looks like they’ve done it again.
Bates has engaged in “education” tactics through its Live Q&A that don’t actually provide an accurate picture of unionization. It warns of many possible negative aspects of unionization while explaining absolutely none of the potential benefits. They stated in this Q&A that “most recently, many union contracts negotiated during the pandemic – including SEIU contracts – had zero increases in pay.”
According to Bloomberg Law, union workers saw a 3.3% average first-year pay increase in 2020. This data is based on 249 contract settlements, and almost all of these contracts were settled after a pandemic was declared. This percentage increase is smaller than it has been in the past due to COVID-19, but it’s still an increase in pay. It’s probably true that “many” union contracts negotiated during the pandemic had zero increases in pay, but it’s also obviously true that many did have increases in pay.
Unionized workers make more on average than non-unionized workers, and this was still true in 2020 during the pandemic. According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, “among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly earnings of $1,144 in 2020, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings of $958.”
The Economic Policy Institute has reported that “94% of workers covered by a union contract have access to employer-sponsored health benefits, compared with just 68% of nonunion workers and 91% of workers covered by a union contract have access to paid sick days, compared with 73% of nonunion workers.”
If Bates’ actual goal was to educate fairly about unionization, they would have information like that on the Q&A website along with all the fear mongering about the possibility of losing benefits or being forced to pay dues.
If they’ve gone so far as to create a website full of biased information about unions, hire a union-busting law firm, and discriminatorily enforce a solicitation policy in violation of labor law, clearly a union is something threatening. If unionization will likely lead to no pay increases, mandatory dues that are burdensome, and the loss of benefits, why would Bates work so hard to discourage it?