Pettengill Hall at Bates College in Lewiston. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

LEWISTON – An independent organization with more than 45,000 academic members across the country recently urged the National Labor Relations Board to allow nontenure track professors and adjunct faculty members at Bates College to join a proposed staff union.

The nonprofit American Association of University Professors said in a brief submitted to the federal agency that “faculty and staff employed at institutions of higher education have much in common and that, at certain institutions, they can share a ‘community of interest’ sufficient to render their joint inclusion in a single bargaining unit appropriate” under federal law as long as faculty members are given “a meaningful mechanism for registering their desires on the issue.”

“Faculty and staff at colleges and universities generally have much in common,” the group said in its brief. “In certain instances, these similarities can support a finding that they share a community of interest” and ought to be allowed to join the same union if they wish.

Bates has argued that about 85 faculty members eyed for union membership should not be able to participate in the same union as the rest of the college’s staff, assuming employees voted to form a union in January in an election where the ballots have not yet been counted.

The professors’ association said that while the NLRB “should reject” the bid by Bates “to create a new, categorical rule barring faculty from being included in a unit with staff,” it is important to have a mechanism to allow contingent faculty members to decide if they want to belong to the union or not.

Faculty members at Bates who were allowed to vote in January cast separate ballots to determine first if they wanted to be part of the same union or not. Since the votes haven’t been tallied, it is unknown whether they want to be in the union or not.


In its response to the professors’ association, Bates’ attorneys did not address the substance of its argument, instead focusing on legal procedures that they said should block consideration of the brief.

Nicholas DiGiovanni and Rachel Adams Ladeau, who work for the Boston-based Morgan, Brown & Joy, a labor and employment law firm, said Bates “believes it would be inequitable for the AAUP to be the sole” outside group to have a chance to weigh in given that there was no public notice that the agency would consider briefs from anyone but the college and the Maine Service Employee Association, the union hoping to represent about 630 workers at Bates.

The two lawyers for Bates also argued that in any case, the group’s brief was “extremely untimely” because it was filed months after the college filed its request for the NLRB to review a regional decision made in December.

Though an initial ruling by a regional NLRB administrator approved the idea of having a union at Bates that includes faculty, the college convinced a three-person appeals panel to reconsider the decision. At some point, the five-member NLRB will weigh in with a final ruling on the issue.

Bates said in its filings that it hopes to win on the issue, which it argues would require a new union vote by its staff. But the union remains confident it will carry the day when the NLRB makes its decision.

The professors’ association, whose membership includes graduate students, Librarians and other academics, said in its brief that it wants the NLRB to make clear if it does back Bates that its decision doesn’t mean tenured and tenure-track professors are not protected by the 1935 National Labor Rights Act that governs collective bargaining.

More than 30% of Bates workers signed paperwork in October seeking union representation by the MSEA, which is part of the Service Employees International Union.

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