LEWISTON — Bates College is appealing last month’s decision to allow the possible formation of a “wall-to-wall bargaining unit” that would include about 85 faculty members who are neither tenured nor on a tenure track.

The college’s attorneys called it “inappropriate” to mix faculty and other employees in the proposed union, which would, if approved, be the first of its kind at a U.S. private college.

Unlike the other staff members eyeing a possible union, Bates said in its Dec. 30 appeal to the National Labor Relations Board, the contingent faculty “all serve under contracts of employment,” some of them with terms as long as five years and each have a say in the governance of the college.

The college argued that faculty members “simply do not share an internal community of interest with the rest of the bargaining unit” sought by college workers seeking to be represented by the Maine Service Employees Association, part of the Service Employees International Union.

A view of Parker Hall across the Quad beside Gomes Chapel at Bates College. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

It is unclear whether the union votes’ timeline will be revised due to Bates’ appeal of the federal board’s ruling that allowed the possible formation of the combined.

As part of its appeal, Bates argued that the board should have allowed it to present its argument at a November hearing, where it was precluded from making its full case because it provided its formal Statement of Position to the union one day late.

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“There are compelling reasons for the board to reconsider its policy of automatic preclusion in a case where the college had cause for the late filing and there was no demonstrable harm” to those seeking a union, Bates’ attorneys said in the appeal.

Sample ballot for the upcoming union vote at Bates College. National Labor Relations Board

The regional director of the board, Laura Sacks, ruled on Dec. 16 that staff and contingent faculty at Bates could form a joint union. She set the voting period to start on Thursday, with the results slated to be tallied at the end of the month.

As it stands, about 630 Bates employees are eligible to vote in the secret balloting on whether to form a union, which includes 75 to 95 contingent faculty. They consist of lecturers, senior lecturers, visiting instructors, visiting assistant professors, visiting associate professors, visiting lecturers and those holding formal lectureships at Bates.

Bates’ lawyers said that Sacks’ “stunningly facile analysis” of the issues involved in combining faculty and staff amounted to saying that since she “could not find a board case that precluded the idea of faculty and staff in the same unit, then she could find no reason not to do so.”

Bates said she ignored “a sharp differentiation between the community of interest factors for faculty compared to those of staff.”

Attorneys for the college said that if the union is created as proposed, it will likely prove “a nightmarish task for the parties of trying to resolve a college-wide collective bargaining agreement with extreme differences in the working conditions, aspirations and interests of faculty versus staff in that same unit.”

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In the larger picture, the lawyers said, “Bates College exists to educate its students. If the very mission of the college is focused on the education of those students, which it most assuredly is, then it is the faculty, not the staff, who establish the curriculum and degree programs that are offered to students and who then teach that curriculum to the students.”

That’s a much different function than janitors or dining hall workers, who are important to the college but don’t have a say in the curriculum or programs it offers, the lawyers said.

The college said it deserves a chance to make its entire case to the board rather than getting shut out in part because of a missed deadline.

“To deny one party the opportunity to fully participate in the litigation surrounding such matters because of a technicality is an injustice of the highest order,” it said, adding that the harm “can be easily cured” by extending Bates more time.

“The door to fully litigate and have due process does not need to be slammed shut for such a minor error,” its lawyers said.

Filing the 36-page appeal for Bates were attorneys James Erwin of Portland along with Nicholas DiGiovanni and Rachel Adams Ladeau, who each work for the Boston firm of Morgan, Brown & Joy, which says it excels “at guiding employers through the evolving employment and labor law landscape.”

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