A student at Bates College holds a sign Thursday morning that reads, “Let the workers decide.” Approximately 30 students demonstrated outside of Pettengill Hall calling on the Bates administration to remain neutral as employees consider unionizing. Chants included the phrases “What’s disgusting? Union busting!” and “Have some morality, commit to neutrality!” Sacha Feldberg/The Bates Student

LEWISTON — Bates Educators and Staff Organization announced Friday that members have gathered enough support to hold a union election for staff and contingent faculty.

According to BESO’s email, the group filed a second petition for a union election to the National Labor Relations Board on Friday. BESO intends to form the union with the Maine Service Employees Association (MSEA-SEIU Local 1989).

BESO needed at last 30% of eligible workers to return union cards in order to file the petition.

The contingent faculty, which includes nontenured and non-tenure-track faculty, instructors and lecturers, filed for a union election with National Labor Relations Board on Monday, but the initial petition did not include Bates College staff members. A spokesperson for MSEA was unable to clarify what would happen to the first petition before the Sun Journal’s print deadline Friday night.

“This has been a collaborative hourly professional staff and contingent faculty effort from the beginning,” Francis Eanes, a visiting professor, said. “The contingent faculty side took our step forward first because we already were at a super strong majority, and we felt really confident stepping forward.”

He said that staff, too, were ready, but were “getting a lot of heat from, a lot of surveillance, from management, and they weren’t quite ready to go public with it yet.”

Union organizers have accused the college administration of intimidating workers and suppressing conversations about unionizing.

Darlene Zupancic, office communication and employment coordinator for Dining, Conferences and Campus Events at the college and a 31-year employee, said, “The work environment has been a negative work environment with behaviors that have made it impossible for us to discuss organizing because of surveillance, conversations being interrupted and just basically difficult to have (and) communicate on any everyday topic,” she said. “Currently though, we are feeling a great sense of comfort after the support on campus demanding the neutrality.”

Mary Pols, a spokeswoman for Bates College, denied there was interference or surveillance of the organizing process, telling the Sun Journal staffing shortages have pushed supervisors to help staff members with the daily operations of the college.

“Dining in particular has been short-staffed and various leaders have pitched in to provide meals in Commons,” she said. “The mere presence of a supervisor from Dining, Conferences and Campus Events from time to time has nothing to do with the union organizing drive nor does it constitute surveillance; it signals concern for our hardworking staff and the importance of making sure our campus needs are being met.”

In a statement from Pols on Wednesday, she wrote that Bates will protect the rights of its employees to organize and vote in a secret ballot election.

“As part of its fiduciary duty and in accordance with the law, the college will also share factual information and correct any misinformation to ensure that employees have a comprehensive and accurate understanding of what it means to be represented by a union, including the employment conditions under which a union operates. The college’s goal is to support individuals in making an informed decision about whether or not they wish to be represented by a union,” she wrote.

In their Friday email, BESO hailed a minimum wage increase recently announced by Bates College as the union drive’s first success.

“The day we began talking to our co-workers about forming a collective voice for positive change, management responded and announced a wage increase for our lowest-paid colleagues,” members of BESO wrote. “As we build our unity and our voice, we can win so much more.”

Geoffrey Swift, Bates’ chief financial officer, wrote to faculty and staff on Oct. 1 that the minimum wage for hourly employees would increase from $13.75 to $15.50. The announcement was made when employees were discussing organizing a union but made prior to BESO’s initial unionization announcement Monday.

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