NLRB Orders Counting of Ballots Cast Fourteen Months Ago in Bates College Union Election

Noah Forman, Digital Editor

In a statement on Wednesday, President Clayton Spencer informed college staff that the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Boston has scheduled the counting of the ballots from last year’s union election for today, Thursday, March 23. 

Last Friday, the NLRB ruled the impounded union votes to be released and counted. This decision closes out a near year-long legal battle between Bates College and the Maine Service Employees Association. 

The ballots, which were cast by Bates staff and non-tenured faculty 14 months ago, were impounded via a Trump-era policy which allowed for the delay of ballot counting in the case of pending disputes about which ones should be included. 

An article in The Sun Journal noted that Bates has a pending argument before the labor board over the 85 non-tenured faculty who they believe should not be allowed to join the same union as support staff, who number 550. The Student has yet to obtain a date for which the board will hear the case. 

Last week’s ruling comes in the wake of continued disappointment amongst pro-union employees over a litany of legal challenges by the college to the union vote tallying. A press release published earlier this month, by the Maine AFL-CIO, accused the college of continuing to defy law in their attempt to keep the union votes from being counted.   

The “impoundment rule,” which led to the impoundment of workers’ ballots under the 2019 law, was deemed to be illegal and in violation of workers’ rights under labor law in January of this year. Following this decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., the NLRB decided not to appeal the ruling. 

After the strike-down of the 2019 law, the Maine AFL-CIO filed its initial request for the ballots to be counted. As detailed in an article published in Maine Public, this decision was met with further challenge from the college which failed to hasten delay after Friday’s ruling. 

  In a subsequent press release also published by the Maine AFL-CIO on Mar. 21, Darlene Zupancic, Communication and Employment Coordinator at Bates Dining, said “This is the day we’ve been waiting for. I am so excited for my coworkers to have a collective voice about issues on campus. Us employees having a seat at the table will have a phenomenal impact on the entire Bates community.”

  Jeffrey Neil Young, an attorney with Solidarity Law who represents the union, cautioned, however, that even if BESO wins the election, the college may continue to pursue legal challenges and delay tactics, especially considering the full NLRB has yet to make a decision on the validity of workers’ wall-to-wall bargaining unit. 

Young further highlighted in the release that Regional Director Laura Sacks deemed the wall-to-wall vote to be legitimate in December of 2021. 

  The March 21 press release also stated that “[BESO-supportive] workers emphasize that the campus community is tired of college time, money and resources being used on expensive anti-union legal battles.” 

“The outgoing [Spencer] administration jammed our union efforts with now-illegal delay tactics and process challenges wherever they could,” said Jon-Michael Foley, Bates grounds and maintenance worker. “We’re ready to move on from the constant interference and get to the negotiations table.”

Last Monday, President Spencer released a statement detailing the college’s legal argument for further delay. Following the regional directors request that the ballots be counted, President Spencer explained that “since our case questions the way the bargaining unit—and by extension the voting unit or units—is defined, opening ballots before the full Board in Washington has ruled on the underlying question of whether the unit is appropriate is particularly problematic in this case.”

Last Friday’s NLRB ruling dismissed this appeal; hence today’s counting of the ballots. 

The Student reached out to the Bates Communications Office for comment on Bates’ legal plans moving forward. Media Relations Specialist Mary Pols stated that the published statements from The President’s office were all Bates was sharing with the media at the time. 

Further questioning by The Student regarding President-elect Jenkins’ opinion on the recent events were met with the same answer. 

During last year’s vote, the ballots were divided into two groups: one consisting of the support staff and the other the faculty members who are not on a tenure track. The Student believes there will be a separate count for each group during today’s vote.