LEWISTON — Bates College adjunct faculty and staff filed for a union election with National Labor Relations Board on Monday.

According to a news release issued by Bates educators and staff organization: “Bates contingent faculty and non-managerial staff announced our effort to form a union, the Bates Educators & Staff Organization (BESO), with the Maine Service Employees Association (MSEA-SEIU Local 1989) over the weekend.”

Olivia Orr, Bates Educators & Staff Organization spokesperson and a web designer at Bates, and Francis Eanes, visiting assistant professor of environmental studies, said a union would benefit the entire college.

“(Our) first conversations started a little over a year ago, but things got serious starting in late July, early August when our internal Organizing Committee — as it existed then — first met with MSEA,” Eanes said. “From there we made a game plan to begin really trying to do this work and reach our colleagues to see if there truly was majority interest in forming a union.

“A union is co-workers coming together in order to have a meaningful voice in the decisions that affect us at work,” she said. “We are forming an organization together to make a change for the better, have a real seat at the table, and participate in problem-solving as equals! That way, we can make sure our needs are met and advocate for our students.”

Eanes said a union is one way to bring about change and give workers the opportunity to bargain wage scale and increases, job security, pay equity and working conditions at Bates.

“We already know from organizing over the last year that if we don’t come together, nothing will change,” he said. “We will democratically shape our list of priorities as we build our union together.”

The news release said co-workers have faced pushback from the administration, including workplace surveillance and “an atmosphere of fear.”

“The administration has staffed extra managers in departments where our colleagues are lowest paid and most vulnerable,” Orr said. “Some of our co-workers have felt a lot of pressure not to exercise their right to talk to each other about joining us. That’s why we are calling on the administration to do what’s right, be neutral, and allow us to form our organization, as we have the right to under law, without interference.

“If we all come together as one and gain the right to negotiate as equals with the administration, we can more effectively advocate for funding, supporting, and enacting the priorities of departments where our colleagues have felt undervalued and marginalized,” Orr said. 

Several leaders of the Maine House of Representatives threw their support behind the organization’s move to form a union. 

“Lewiston has a long history of labor organizing going back to Maine workers fighting for better conditions in the textile mills,” Speaker of the House Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford wrote on Twitter. “Today, Bates College employees are making the choice to form a collective voice to advocate for themselves and students. All workers should have the right to make their choice free from intimidation. Earlier this year, I joined my colleagues in an unionizing effort at my non-legislative workplace.”

Assistant Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, said in her Twitter post that Bates’ efforts are a shining example of solidarity.

“Food service workers and adjunct professors are standing together, united in a cause to improve each other’s working conditions, benefits and salaries,” she said. “I fully support the faculty and staff’s efforts to unionize and will be rooting for their success. After all, being part of a union is not only about salaries and benefits — it is also about having dignity in the workplace.”

The Bates Educators & Staff Organization also addressed a letter to students stating: “We are a group of Bates employees from all backgrounds … who have been working for over a year to form our union. Our mission is to build a strong, unified voice to improve labor conditions — especially the most undercompensated and vulnerable among us.”

According to the release, students placed 1,500 signs supporting the organization’s efforts to unionize across academic and residential buildings.

“As a union member myself, I know how important it is for workers to be able to organize and collectively bargain,” House Majority Leader Michelle Dunphy, D-Old Town, said in her post. “Congratulations to the staff and faculty at Bates College for taking this historic step. As workers at Bates are making their decisions about whether to join the push to unionize, it is critical that they are able to do so free from intimidation.”

Orr said, “After signing up a majority of our co-workers on union authorization cards, showing everyone’s support for forming our union, we will have the chance to vote to form our union with the Maine Service Employees Association (MSEA-SEIU Local 1989), joining over 13,000 MSEA members across the state. We are excited to vote yes with our co-workers so we can sit down with the administration to advocate for ourselves and for our students.”

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