LEWISTON — Bates College employees, seeking to form a union, filed an unfair labor practice charge Monday claiming Bates administrators, “illegally threatened employees with adverse consequences, such as the loss of benefits and termination.”

In the complaint to the National Labor Relations Board, the Bates Educators & Staff Organization also said the college has, “a discriminatory no-solicitation rule to prevent employees from exercising their right to unionize.”

Mary Pols, a spokesperson for the college, said that, “Bates has yet to receive notice of any charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board. We will reserve any comment until we see what the union is alleging.”

It appears the complaint is related at least in part to an incident in which an employee was allegedly told he could not talk about union issues while on the job at Bates because of a non-solicitation clause in the employee handbook, despite the college’s longstanding willingness to let workers sell Girl Scout cookies, sign petitions and more.

The National Labor Relations Act bars employers from prohibiting their workers from soliciting for a union during breaks or off-hours. But, it can also apply if employers show inconsistency in allowing some activities, but barring anything that might help in forming a union. Threatening workers is not allowed.

In addition to filing the complaint, those pushing for a union repeated their call for the college administration to take a neutral stand on their efforts.

Olivia Orr, ‭a web designer at Bates and a BESO organizer, said in a prepared statement that Bates “can and should commit to remain neutral, as many other colleges have done. It is so disappointing to see fear tactics, bullying and illegal activity by the Bates administration as we exercise our legal right to form our union.”

“Nevertheless, we are more determined now than ever to form a collective voice at Bates,” Orr said. “Clearly, there’s no other way for educators and staff to protect themselves, make sure our needs are met, do right by our students, and hold the administration accountable to the values it claims to uphold.”

The original petition seeking a union was filed this month on behalf of the non-tenured and non-tenure-track faculty, instructors and lecturers who want to be represented by the Maine Service Employees Association, part of the Service Employees International Union. Shortly after, another petition sought to have the union represent all staff at Bates other than managers, tenured or tenure-track faculty, confidential employees, guards or supervisors.

Bates President Clayton Spencer said in a statement about the unionization effort that there will likely be, “an election in the coming weeks,” run by the NLRB and conducted by secret ballot from among the employees the federal agency determines are eligible.

In her message, she made it clear that Bates won’t remain neutral.

“I want to assure you that Bates will protect the rights of all eligible employees to decide for themselves whether or not they wish to be exclusively represented by this union,” she said, and that “every employee has the right to support or not support the union and to express their point of view.”

“We will not tolerate or engage in interference with these rights, and we will respect the outcome of the election, whichever way it goes,” Spencer said.

But, she added, the college will not, “remain silent during this critical period, as has been urged by some faculty and other members of the community. No one can make an informed choice if they hear only one side of a story. That is simply not how deliberative processes or democratic elections work, particularly at an educational institution.”

The Bates Student, the college’s student newspaper, reported on “several potential instances of intimidation directed toward faculty and staff relating to the unionization efforts,” but the union did not cite any of them specifically in its press release about its complaint to the NRLB.

“All we’ve ever wanted was the space to have open and honest conversations with our colleagues about the things we love about Bates and the things we want to see changed,” Orr said.

“We’ve had some really amazing conversations all across campus since this began,” Orr said, “and are building relationships across departments that make the college a stronger and more welcoming place. But this requires a work environment free from misinformation and intimidation.”

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