Unions may have a new target: admissions workers

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The National Labor Relations Council counted the votes last week. By 25-20, student workers at Hamilton College’s admissions office voted to unionize.

This is the first victory for undergraduates seeking to organize since the NLRB in March repealed a Trump administration rule that made them ineligible for collective bargaining. It is also the first union specifically for a college admissions office.

The question for many in admissions was, will there be more unions to come?

Administrations of private four-year colleges generally don’t like unions (although there are many instances where they work well with them). But in academic fields, such unions are relatively rare. A 1980 Supreme Court decision NLRB v. Yeshiva University, ruled that faculty members are, in fact, part of the leadership of a college and therefore are not eligible for collective bargaining. This decision, however, concerned tenure-track faculty members with considerable power in their universities. Many union leaders believe this should not apply to all private college faculties. But the decision leaves open the possibility of unionizing auxiliaries and others in private colleges. (Labor relations at public colleges are governed by state laws, which vary widely.)

The admissions office workers did not unionize – with the exception of Hamilton. The Hamilton union includes tour guides and admission scholars, who interview prospective students.

Samantha DeRiso, director of political and public affairs for United Food and Commercial Workers Local One, which organized the Hamilton workers, said that since the union went public (in August), he has learned that other campuses organized unions for admissions. She declined to name the colleges because “I still wouldn’t want to endanger these workers by revealing details.” But based on what she heard, she said: “I think it could be a move for sure.”

William A. Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions, at Hunter College at City University in New York City, agreed there would be more attempts to train unions.

“In the coming months, we will likely see NLRB petitions filed for the representation of graduate assistants and undergraduates on other private sector campuses,” he said.

Thirty percent of workers have to sign cards to force an election, but most organizing campaigns seek more than that. The Hamilton union said about half of the workers in its union have signed cards.

David Hawkins, head of education and policy for the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said via email that “as with any precedent-setting event, it seems likely that we may see efforts to replicate a union petition in other contexts. From this perspective, admissions offices would probably be well advised to consider this possibility on their campus. “

Will unions be useful for admissions? “We will get different opinions from the entire admissions profession on whether unionization would be objectively good or bad, but the only consistent answer I think we would get is that forming unions in this context will introduce a new, more complex system for working with undergraduates. students, ”Hawkins said. “Whether or not students initiate such a petition, however, admissions offices will need more institutional support to ensure that their modalities of working with students are carefully designed to ensure the protection of both the office. ‘admission and students. “

The problems in Hamilton

In Hamilton, the union was delighted with the outcome. “I’m always excited about a first election, and making history is incredible,” said Frank C. DeRiso, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local One.

Hamilton released a statement about the new union after the vote was announced.

“The National Council of Labor Relations counted the ballots and a majority of student students who voted for the chosen union representation,” the statement said. “Hamilton supports the right of workers to choose what they think is best for them. We recognize that there were strong opinions on both sides of this issue, and we encourage everyone to work together as we move forward. As always, Hamilton all greatly appreciates the hard work and dedication our student employees bring to the jobs they do while pursuing their academic careers. “

As the statement accepted the union and Hamilton considered negotiating a contract, Hamilton gave the students information to discourage unionization.

An FAQ published by the university read: “Students who work at Hamilton College have always had a direct relationship with the college as an employer, in addition to their academic relationship. Each student worker and supervisor or manager can freely communicate with each other about any issue at any time, work together to address workplace issues, and make individualized arrangements. In a unionized work environment, the direct employment relationship between each student worker and the college would be replaced by a legal bargaining relationship between the college and the outside union organization, in this case UFCW Local 1. The college would be legally prohibited from dealing directly with student workers about terms and conditions of employment. The union would negotiate a single collective agreement between UFCW and the college governing terms and conditions of employment. Union work environments are generally formalistic and governed by rules. The impact would likely be a less personal and more transactional work experience. The unions also demand the payment of dues. “

As for wages, the FAQ said: “There is no guarantee of a salary increase, and there is no guarantee that the final contract will be better than what the student workers had before the union.

But more than 40 faculty members signed a letter in The spectator, the student newspaper, asserting that “a union enables workers, through organizational resources, collective bargaining rules and increased solidarity, to be able to seek better working conditions and to protect themselves not only against embezzlement or abuse by the employer, but also against the capricious nature of employers’ responses. to developments like COVID. Such protection is especially important for students from economically marginalized communities – often first generation students or students of color – who may often be faced with a choice between accepting unfair or unsafe working conditions and losing essential income. “

Union leaders said many grievances motivated the organizing campaign.

“Workers have reported a number of concerns ranging from theft of wages, denial of a raise, a disrespectful work environment and being forced to visit during heat and heat notices. other adverse weather conditions, “a union press release said. “Admissions also announced the return of in-person tours in spring 2021 without consulting tour guides. “

Hamilton has denied these charges, as well as other charges.

“Is Hamilton allowed to talk about the union with student workers?” Yes, it is perfectly acceptable to provide information to hardworking students, express the college’s position on issues, and answer questions so that students can make an informed decision. It would be a strange electoral process if only one party were allowed to express their point of view, ”said Steve Stemkoski, director of human resources, in a letter to The spectator. “It was also suggested that the college had not consulted the tour guides before resuming the tours last spring. This is simply not true. The college consulted the tour guides and proposed to those who didn’t. were uncomfortable doing work alternative tours.


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