On Tuesday, April 15, the Vassar Student/Labor Dialogue (SLD) organized an event called “Call-in Day to Demand a Fair and Speedy Election for Security.” According to the SLD Facebook page, the idea behind the initiative was to organize a system through which students could call the office of VP for Finance and Administration Robert Walton and demand faster progress in the College’s security workers’ ongoing process to organize a union.
As the Facebook page said, SLD organized the event to advocate for an efficient union election for security workers. “We are asking all supporters to call in to the office of Robert Walton, Vice President of Finance and Administration, to demand a fair and speedy election,” it read.
Member of SLD Alexandra Deane ’15 also spoke to the idea behind the call-in day. “We’re asking that the College agree to fair terms of the election, meaning a time and a place that encourages members of the department to vote and an environment free of anti-union pressure in the lead-up to an election,” she said.
Deane also explained the idea behind calling Walton, saying, “The security officers haven’t begun negotiating over terms of employment or working conditions yet, and they won’t until they win their union and negotiate for a contract. However, as the VP of Finance and Administration, Bob Walton is responsible for helping to set and carry out the administration’s policies towards its workers on issues like unionization.”
She continued, “[Walton] refused to recognize the security officers’ bargaining unit despite the overwhelming majority of officers demonstrating their desire to form a union, which forced them to seek recognition through a binding NLRB election.”
According to the event page, over 30 people planned to participate in the call-in day and several people confirmed that they had called Walton’s office. As the script read, “My Name is (YOUR NAME) and I’m a (Student at Vassar, Vassar parent, Worker at Vassar, etc). I’m calling today to demand that the college administration agree to a fair and fast election for Vassar Security officers through the National Labor Relations Board. The officers have shown an overwhelming majority desire to form a union, and I’m calling to say that the community stands behind them. We want to see the administration agree to a fair speedy election and we’re prepared to make our voices heard on this issue.”
Walton himself responded to many of the demands made by security workers and aided by SLD. He introduced the issue, saying in a written statement, “During the past two weeks, I attended a meeting at my office including a few students (self identified as SLD members), faculty, and staff, where I was told that some members of the Vassar Safety and Security Department wanted to join a union (unspecified). It was a very calm and civil meeting where the community members gathered expressed their views to me about the importance of Security Department employees being part of a union.”
He continued, jumping to the present. “Last week, a few Security Department employees, accompanied by several students, faculty and other community members, appeared in my office to ‘demand’ that I accept their list of names and the card check process to form a union. I politely met with them and declined their request, and stated that if a union was desired, this would need to conform to the secret ballot rules and procedures of a NLRB administered election. Shortly thereafter, I was officially notified by the Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board that a petition had been received by the NLRB seeking a union election and that a hearing is scheduled to review the petition,” he said.
Director of Safety and Security Don Marsala also commented on security’s unionization process and negotiations with the administration, saying, “Now, some of the officers, many having never been represented by a union, feel that they might be better represented by a union and have started the process to do so. There has never been any effort by my office or the College to deny, thwart or in any way inhibit that process. In fact, if the officers so choose, they have my blessing to do so.”
Marsala and Walton also both acknowledged the role of the SLD in the exchange between security workers and the administration. Marsala noted, “With the support of a well-meaning students group, the issue has taken on a life of its own.”
Deane, however, was quick to clarify SLD’s position as a student group in the negotiations between security and the administration. “Negotiations are between workers and the administration; the SLD doesn’t determine what it is that workers care about or what they want to fight for. But to the extent that workers here are struggling for justice in their working lives and in their compensation, the SLD is going to support them and put pressure on the administration,” she said.
As for the future of the security-administration negotiations, the outcome remains unclear. Though the call-in event was successful in getting a specific message communicated to Walton, the security workers’ unionization is still very much a work in progress.
Walton clarified his own position. “Clearly the SLD, by their own admission, wants a union to be formed and they are presenting only those facts and anecdotes that support that conclusion. I am neutral and as long as Security Officers can vote confidentially and independently, I am happy to honor the outcome of an election if held,” he said.
Walton also recognized the role of the SLD, recalling, “While I may disagree with some of the SLD statements, conclusions or attributions of what SLD members portray as typical working conditions of employees of Vassar College or attitudes of the administration, I strongly support open dialogue and the freedom of the SLD to speak their minds and express their passions.”