Musical staff

Staff pressured to attend in-person anti-union meeting despite Bates’ COVID restrictions

Between 60 and 70 hourly workers at Bates College in Lewiston attended an in-person meeting led by an anti-union consultant on Tuesday, despite new policies from administrators restricting in-person gatherings and outside visitors to the private liberal arts college due to the outbreak of COVID -19 contaminations.

On December 29, as coronavirus cases in Maine increased with the arrival of the highly contagious variant of omicron during the holiday season, the college administration released new COVID protocols for Staff and students. These involved allowing only “students, faculty and staff” inside campus buildings.

“This limitation includes members of the public for musical performances, theater and dance productions, and art exhibitions, as well as spectators at sporting events,” wrote Geoffrey Swift, vice president of finance and administration of Bates College.

Union organizers say the college made an exception to its own public health policy by requiring hourly staff to attend an in-person meeting with an out-of-state consultant. During the meeting, organizers said, staff would be exposed to anti-union talking points just days before union elections by correspondence which are due to start on Jan.6.

In an email sent to hourly staff on Monday, Bates College assistant vice president of human resources Hope Burnell urged workers to attend a meeting chaired by Boston employment lawyer Katie Lev, Who tag Previously reported runs her own ‘union avoidance’ consultancy and once admitted in a meeting with workers trying to organize that she was ‘not neutral’.

The administration was recruitment of consultants organize staff meetings since adjunct professors and non-management staff announced in October that they had applied for a union election. Routines for decades, these meetings are tactics used by employers to erode possible union support.

“These sessions have been timed to provide opportunities that work with the majority of employee’s schedules, and you are strongly encouraged to attend,” Burnell wrote.

Bates staff have expressed concern over the willingness of directors to risk their exposure to the coronavirus to push back their attempt to organize.

“If the administration says it is dangerous for students to have face-to-face classes, large gatherings to take place and outside visitors to be on campus, then anti-union meetings with an outside consultant should not be envisaged. “said Julia Panepinto, assistant softball coach at Bates and union organizer, said in a statement released by the Maine Service Employees Association-SEIU Local 1989, which also represents tag Staff. “The College’s choice to violate its own COVID policy, to fight our right to organize ourselves free from any undue influence or interference, puts us, our students and the community at risk.”

“It just goes to show us how important it is that we have a voice in workplace decisions that affect us, our students, our families and our neighbors as well,” added Panepinto.

Union organizers said the college had scheduled face-to-face meetings and “welcome hours” with Lev on January 4, 6 and 7.

The MSEA said in a press release Tuesday that the meetings, scheduled for 24 hours after the ballots are sent to employees, could also “represent a violation of federal labor law, which states that employers cannot not “make an election speech on company time to a massive assembly of employees within 24 hours of the election.

This is not the first allegation of federal labor violations during this union campaign. Workers filed a complaint Oct. 18 with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency that oversees union elections, alleging that the administration unlawfully threatened employees with negative consequences, such as loss of benefits and dismissal.

The NLRB is currently investigating the charges, union organizers said.

Bates administrators responded to a request for comment on this story.

Photo: In October, students hung signs and chalked messages of support around the Bates College campus after it was announced that staff had applied to federal officials to hold a union election. | Courtesy of the Association of Service Employees of Maine