LEWISTON – As Bates College employees get ready to vote soon on forming a union, some worry that the effort could undermine the friendly relations they’ve seen over the years between workers and managers at the small liberal arts school.

“Like it or not, this will cause a rift in the college,” said Sylvia Deschaine, a 32-year employee who serves as an academic administrative assistant and building coordinator at the Carnegie Science Hall

Jeanne Beliveau, an academic administrative assistant at Hedge Hall, said there is “so much tension on campus” these days because of the looming union vote, which is likely to take place before Thanksgiving.

More than 30% of Bates College employees have filed the required paperwork to clear the way for a secret vote among eligible workers to decide if they want to be represented by the Maine Service Employees Association, part of the Service Employees International Union.

Union organizers say the change is needed to ensure that employees are treated fairly in everything from their pay to their job security. It’s a proposal that’s received strong support from students, Democratic politicians and labor leaders in Maine.

Some of the college’s workers said their concerns about creating a union seem to have gotten lost amid the furor. They said opposition to the union has been overshadowed by the public push of those who favor it.

Four workers who don’t want to see a union spoke to the Sun Journal this week to outline their concerns, in the hope of letting people know that they consider the college administration to have treated them well and to have taken a hands-off approach to the labor battle this fall.

Sandy Brooks, a custodian for the past four years, said that many workers at Bates are feeling nervous and bullied by organizers who are pushing an agenda that she thinks misrepresents the reality at the elite, 2,000-student liberal arts college.

Mary Hughes, a vivarium coordinator for the past two decades, said Bates has always had “a very special culture” and she doesn’t want to see it shattered.

“There is nothing broken, so why are they trying to fix it?” Beliveau asked.

Brooks said Bates managers “let you do your job and still take care of your family,” offering flexibility to workers with sick children, ailing parents and other woes.

All four said they are shocked that a union is pressing to add Bates employees to its rolls in the wake of a pandemic in which, they said, the college treated its employees as well as any place.

They said Bates kept paying them throughout the pandemic, even when they were sent home with no work to do. Their benefits stayed intact, the four said, and supervisors were kind in dealing with the problems that arose from children learning remotely and other unusual hardships.

“We’re a family. We’re tight,” Beliveau said.

Beliveau said the bid to create a union seemed to many workers to “come out of nowhere” and has left many confused about what possible benefits a union could offer.

The four helped form a group called Bates Employees No Union that they funded.

Brooks said she made a small poster headlined, “Why We Don’t Want a Union at Bates” and Deschaine said she spent hundreds of dollars printing copies that they’d hang up around campus only to have them all ripped down by union backers.

“Basically,” she said, “we’re being silenced.”

They insisted that the college and its leaders have done nothing to help them. They said they have received no money, no advice and no assistance in their quest to counter the union’s efforts.

“We have nothing,” Beliveau said.

Bates did, however, put out a fact sheet Wednesday that clearly aims to make the case that it has treated its workers well.

Hughes said she’d like to see the college revive a staff organization that used to get together regularly to discuss issues with one another, something she thinks ceased about five years ago. She said it would be a good alternative to a union as a forum for problems to be dealt with.

Beliveau said the bottom line for some workers is that a union isn’t needed because Bates is a good employer.

“We’re telling the truth,” she said. “And the truth is positive.”

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