Bid for a union at Bates College remains stalled in Washington
Mar. 15—LEWISTON — Fourteen months after Bates College staff voted on whether to create a union, the issue remains stalled before the National Labor Relations Board, with the ballots left uncounted and the parameters of who can join a possible union still unclear.
A backlog of cases is apparently the reason that decisions have not yet been made.
Because of a court ruling that led last week to a revision of the rules for impounded ballots, there appeared to be an opening recently that would have allowed the Bates union votes to be counted.
But a regional director for the federal labor board said the decision about whether or not to tally the Bates ballots should be made by the NLRB overseers.
To the frustration of union advocates, who believe that a majority of Bates workers favored joining the Maine Service Employees Association, the college challenged the effort to have support staff and about 85 nontenured faculty members in the same union.
The college argued the "wall-to-wall" unit sought by the union should not be allowed because the two groups have divergent interests. Union supporters disagreed.
A year ago, the NLRB decided that "substantial issues warranting review" existed about the inclusion of faculty and staff, pushing the final ruling onto the board members who hear contested cases.
Ever since, "we have all been waiting for a final ruling by the NLRB," Bates President Clayton Spencer said in a prepared public statement.
"Since our case questions the way the bargaining unit — and by extension the voting unit or units — is defined, opening ballots before the full board in Washington has ruled on the underlying question of whether the unit is appropriate is particularly problematic in this case," Spencer said.
Union backers blame Bates for the delay.
"It's been more than a year since Bates employees voted on our unionization drive and yet we still don't know the outcome of the election," Aaron Morse, associate athletic communications director at Bates, said in a prepared statement issued by the union.
"This is ridiculous," Morse said. "The courts have made it clear that our votes should be counted in a timely manner, yet the college continues to delay and stall and delay and stall. Why? What are they afraid of? Count the votes!"
Darlene Zupancic, communication and employment coordinator at Bates Dining, said in the same union news release that it is "high time to count the ballots and determine if we won our union election."
Zupancic said comments by Bates' president-elect, Garry Jenkins, pledging to work closely with staff and faculty offer the elite liberal arts school "the opportunity to repair their relationship with workers."
She called on Jenkins, who takes office in July, to bring "a new direction to labor relations on campus" and to work with union backers in good faith.
Spencer said the college expects the NLRB to rule on whether the votes should be counted.
"I know that this has been a long process," she said, "and I recognize the frustration for union-eligible employees, regardless of how you voted, and for other colleagues across the college, in not yet knowing the final outcome."