Information on a Pending Union Issue

Dear Colleagues,

In response to questions from faculty and staff, I write to address the union election and the college’s request for review by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) of the decision to combine faculty and staff in a single bargaining unit. Below, I lay out some key facts and the considerations that informed the college’s request for review.

Where We Are in the Election Process

  • The election has happened. Eligible employees wishing to vote have marked their ballots and returned them to the NLRB, Region 1 office, which includes Maine. The votes are currently being held by the regional office, sealed and not yet counted, as explained below.
  • The election took place according to procedures specified by the regional director of the NLRB in a decision issued on December 16, 2021. It set the election as a mail-in process to begin on January 6, 2022, with all ballots due back to the regional office by January 28, 2022. The decision directed that the bargaining unit for the election and subsequent negotiations would combine eligible faculty and staff in a single unit. 
  • The December 16 decision also specified that either party has the right to request that the NLRB review issues raised by the decision, and stated that: “Neither the filing of this request for review nor the Board’s granting of a request for review will stay [i.e., delay] the election unless specifically ordered by the Board.” In this case, the election proceeded as scheduled.
  • On December 30, 2021, Bates filed a request for review of the regional director’s decision on the structure of the bargaining unit, a full four weeks before ballots were scheduled to be counted. 
  • To date, the NLRB has not acted on the request for review. Under these circumstances, the rules and regulations of the Board require that all ballots submitted in the election be impounded – i.e., set aside, unopened and not counted – until a decision is rendered. The regional NLRB office, following its own rules and regulations, impounds and holds the ballots. Neither the college nor the union has access to them while the decision is pending.

The College’s Request for Review

Bates requested a review of the regional director’s decision combining faculty and staff in a single bargaining unit, because the structure of the unit is an important question for the college and for employees. If a union is voted in, we will be working within a framework of collective bargaining for purposes of setting compensation, hours of work, and other workplace matters for the majority of our employees. We want to make sure our employees and the college are set up for success within this new framework. We do not believe that a unit combining faculty and staff serves this purpose.

Asking that separate bargaining units for faculty and staff be designated does not diminish the contributions of all of our employees in making possible the life-transforming experience for which our students come to Bates. At the same time, it does not follow that it is sensible or effective to combine faculty and staff in a single unit for purposes of sorting through basic employment issues, when the nature of the work and the ways in which it is structured differ at a fundamental level. 

For example, faculty employment is governed by binding contracts, and staff employment is not. Faculty do not have set vacation days, or sick time, or set schedules for much of their work. Most staff do. Faculty do not have job descriptions, staff do. Evaluation and supervision of faculty and staff are handled in fundamentally different ways. Many of the rules and practices that govern faculty employment are covered in a separate Faculty Handbook that does not apply to staff. These are a few examples of the differing interests of faculty and staff with regard to the issues at the center of union negotiations.

In fact, the NLRB has never directed that faculty and staff be combined in the same unit on a private college campus. Asking the NLRB to review this issue is, therefore, important not only for Bates but for higher education more broadly. 

It is worth emphasizing that the college’s request for review does not implicate or interfere with the right of our employees to decide, through a vote, whether they wish to be represented by a union. Rather, the request for review raises the narrow question of whether the regional director reached the wrong judgment, under the NLRB’s own legal standards, about how the bargaining unit should be configured. Whether in one unit or more, the employees will be represented by the union, if a majority of eligible employees vote for that representation.

I am mindful that this remains a stressful time for many colleagues on campus, and I hope that the NLRB will soon reach a decision. Meanwhile, we will provide updates about any developments as they emerge. Thank you again for your patience as we await clarity about the path forward.