The Bargaining Unit: A Wall-to-Wall Union

On Dec. 16, Laura Sacks of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that union organizers should be permitted to vote on a wall-to-wall bargaining unit union including staff and nontenure and nontenure-track faculty. On Dec. 30, Bates appealed this decision, arguing that faculty should not be included in a union with staff. 

In her original decision, Sacks cited a large degree of board precedent that led her to the decision that a wall-to-wall (nontenured faculty and staff) unit was appropriate. In Sack’s words, the unit was appropriate because “the employees enjoy similar benefits, are subject to many of the same policies, are functionally integrated, and have frequent contact with one another at their common worksite.”

Further, the burden was on Bates to demonstrate that the unit was inappropriate, and they were precluded from doing so because their Statement of Position was filed one day late. Such rules on timelines are incredibly important to the process, and enforcing these rules is not a matter of mere technicality, as Bates’ lawyers argued in their appeal. They wrote that in their appeal, Bates was denied the opportunity to fully participate because of their late submission, calling it an “injustice of the highest order.”

Bates takes the position in its appeal that there are “such extreme differences in the working conditions, aspirations and interests of faculty versus staff in that same unit.” Despite all the clear precedent in the union’s favor, the appeal depicts the decision by Sacks, who has been working at the NLRB for 30 years, as “stunningly facile.” 

In summary, the appeal somehow manages to be simultaneously whiny, elitist and unprofessional. Major kudos. Such elitism is not out of character for Bates, as they previously argued that the union election should not be held by mail because some employees may be illiterate, despite having a written employee handbook and being unable to demonstrate that any other alternative ways of communication for illiterate employees have ever been used by the college.

I know it’s just so hard to imagine that a lower-income custodial services worker would have anything in common with someone with a Ph.D., but believe it or not, most people want long-term job security, happiness, comfort and respect. A visiting politics professor certainly doesn’t face identical working conditions to a facilities employee, but suggesting that they could not share aspirations and interests is both absurd and inaccurate.

There is unique power in the idea of a wall-to-wall unit that allows all employees to stand up for themselves without certain sectors of employees being excluded or separated from the unit. To try to split up the unit is to try to reduce its collective bargaining power. 

Votes have been impounded while the matter of the unit’s composition is resolved. It is my hope that the NLRB sees Bates’ appeal for what it really is, a desperate attempt to stop employees from having a seat at the table. I encourage all members of the Bates community, whether you want a union or not, to urge Bates to give up this nonsensical appeal and demand the immediate counting of votes.

Some of the lawyers who wrote this appeal work for the union-busting firm Morgan, Brown & Joy, which claimed that it “excels at guiding employers through the evolving employment and labor law landscape.” I wonder if there’s something else that could help employees with such matters … maybe something that starts with the letter “u”?