The Vassar Security Department is organizing to form a union.
The Student/Labor Dialogue (SLD) has been showing support through the hashtag “#DemocracyforVCSecurity,” as well as a photo campaign. Additionally, they have made a community petition featured on their Facebook page, which members of the Vassar community can sign to support solidarity.
According to a student member of the SLD, the support letter and petition has two goals: to show the Administration that the community wants a safe environment for the union drive to happen, and that if the majority of security workers want a union, the College should respect that.
“Security officers are running a unionization drive—that’s something that’s coming from workers in security. That may have popped up if the SLD never existed,” said the anonymous member of the SLD.
They continued, “I think if the SLD has played any role in starting this, it’s making a particular environment in which people are empowered to make their workplaces better—but it’s not clear to me that that’s come from us. It’s really come from security. We’re playing a role in supporting them now that it’s happening.”
Security became aligned with the SLD by word of mouth, said an anonymous security officer.
“I believe that many of the security officers were attending programs that the SLD already had in place. Word had gotten around that it was kicking off well and they had a lot of concerns about workers…supporting different workers and unions, workers from various departments.”
The individual continued, “I went to the meeting and met students supporting workers. I liked what I had heard, and had some concerns about difficulty in my department—I felt like I needed someone to hear me out.”
The security officer mentioned that they had made attempts to remedy departmental issues before pursuing unionization. “I have tried everything in my power to solve differences, to no avail. So, I wanted to take it further and the SLD are people I’ve really heard can bring something to fruition, to assist me, and that’s what I wanted,” they said.
Many other groups on campus are putting forth a united front, including entire house teams. Raymond House President Ramy Abbady ’16, said, “Two members of my House Team are very involved in the Student/Labor Dialogues. During our last House Team Meeting, they brought up the petition, and asked if we would be willing to sign it as a House Team.”
Abbady went on, “After a discussion, we all agreed, and I signed it on behalf of Raymond House.” Abbady stated that this act of solidarity was in-line with their guiding principles as a house.
He said, “Earlier in the semester, we had talked about doing more to support workers in the House and on campus, and I think this was a great step towards doing that.”
A photo was taken with Raymond House Team as a way of participating of the SLD’s photo campaign.
“I’ve done what I could to help out with SLD’s most recent campaign to back up the security staff’s efforts to unionize. I’ve tabled at the [All-Campus Dining Center] and the Retreat, asking people to sign the community support letter that asks the administration to respect the democratic majority of security workers and to refrain from engaging in any union-busting activities,” noted Raymond House Team Freshman Representative Raymond Magsaysay ’17 in an emailed statement.
Magsaysay continued, “But I think the most important thing I’ve done to support security workers is listen to them…I’ve sat down with some members of security and listened to them express a common experience: that they have had enough, enough disrespect and enough maltreatment.”
Many other departments at Vassar currently have unions and while security had once been a part of the union, they left due to the Administration promising better benefits.
According to the security officer, those benefits were never seen.
“Since I’ve been here…[there has been] a lot of the miscommunication, disrespect, harassment, bullying, not being able to go to your advisors and get things resolved—these are issues that hurt us and are bringing our department out,” admitted the officer.
A major factor contributing to why many security officers’ voices are thwarted, maintained Magsaysay, has to do with unbalanced power dynamics. “Standing up to your employer is a difficult and scary thing to do, because the employer holds so much more institutional power than the workers,” said Magsaysay on the issue.
He continued, “That’s one of the reasons I think it’s incredibly important to come out and show support and solidarity with people who are organizing for respect and democracy in their workplace. It’s our obligation as members of the community to stand with them and make sure we hold the administration and the supervisors here accountable in the process.”
After a meeting held on Monday, March 31, the Administration said they would not immediately respect the department’s wishes for a union. Instead, they will make officers wait one to two months and then vote.
In terms of how administration will react to the union drive as it progresses, the student from the SLD said, “As far as a particular environment they will create for the union drive, they did say that they probably…won’t run an anti-union campaign. That has a lot of wiggle room…I’m not super hopeful that means they’re going to be neutral, which is what we want.”
For Magsaysay, this initiative has been long overdue.
“It’s time for the administration to respect security workers here at Vassar and do the right thing by respecting their democratic majority, and by remaining neutral in the organizing process,” Magsaysay commented.
Despite the Administration’s delay on recognizing the department’s unionization, security will continue their efforts.
“We’re not going to stop. We’re going to continue on,” said the officer.
“If we have to mobilize to get ourselves heard, we’re going to do that…we will be meeting, making sure each of us is solid, that we touch base with our community…whatever we have to do,” they continued.
“We have a lot of political people on the outside that will join us.”
“Get involved,” the guard encouraged, “We need every person that is concerned…to join us.”