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  • Quinn Malter

Bates College Staff and Faculty Deserve a Union

Among the many fragile systems exposed by the pandemic was a lack of job security for scores of American workers. In higher education alone, over 260,000 college and university employees lost their jobs in the wake of COVID-19. Those who remained were stretched beyond their capacity and at the highest risk of contracting and dying from the virus. All of this for, in many cases, less than a living wage.

Bates College staff and faculty have had enough. Back in October, organizers began a campaign to unionize 650 college employees who aren't campus safety officers, tenured or tenure-track faculty, or management. The new union would be called the Bates Educators & Staff Organization (BESO) and serve as a member organization of MESA-SEIU Local 1989.

“Our mission is to build a strong, unified voice to improve labor conditions at the college and champion the social, economic, physical, and mental well-being of all Bates employees, especially the most under-compensated and vulnerable among us,” organizers said in a statement.

“Over the past year, too many of our coworkers have left due to dissatisfaction, low pay, and poor working conditions at the college. Losing so much talent and expertise has added more work for those of us who remain, diminishing our capacity to provide quality learning and living conditions for our students."

While most colleges and universities with unionizing employees remain neutral throughout the organizing process, Bates College leadership and administrators have deliberately engaged in union-busting activities and suppression of free speech.

College management communicated with anti-union labor consultants, and College President Clayton Spencer released a public statement effectively opposing the unionization effort. Management has intimidated those seeking to unionize by telling organizers they could not communicate about unionizing with other members during work time or use work WiFi to communicate around organizing. Organizers say the college is also restricting union solicitation on work time, even though it has allowed other forms of solicitation on work time, such as signing petitions or selling Girl Scout cookies. Several staff members were also told that they could potentially lose benefits if a union is approved, in violation of labor law. Organizers have now filed charges against the College for unfair restrictions on organizing.

Despite the institutional resistance, organizers are getting widespread support. Students have drawn pro-union messages in chalk across campus. Several state legislators have voiced their support for the union. And Bates alum Jared Golden released a statement supporting organizers and urging College management to remain neutral.

Mainers for Working Families firmly supports the Bates Educators & Staff Organization. Every worker is first and foremost a human being deserving of respect and fair working conditions. When these are not present, we have the right to organize and demand better for ourselves.


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