The following are two public letters created by the Vassar Student/Labor Dialogue, the first of which signed of by more than 750 members of the Vassar community, including students, faculty, alumnae/i and members of the two unions with members on campus: SEIU 200 and CWA 1120 at Vassar. The second letter is signed by a number of organizations and individuals in the Poughkeepsie community. We launched this support campaign to let the administration know that the community expects and demands that Vassar as an institution upholds a commitment to respecting the democratic representation of workers on this campus.
On April 7, a group of around a dozen security guards, backed by student supporters delivered these letters below to Robert Walton, the Vice President for Administration and Finance, and to President Catharine Bond Hill’s office. After some time, Mr. Walton came out of his office and met with the guards, who asked him to recognize a union based on the 96 percent majority of their signatures. Mr. Walton refused to do so. With the support of over 750 Vassar community members, the guards vowed to fight on and win in spite of the bureaucratic hurdles put up by the administration.
Students and workers joined hands outside Walton’s office, renewing their fight and preparing for their next steps toward winning a union for the Safety and Security staff. On Friday, April 11, workers filed for a binding election administered by the National Labor Relations Board. With continued community support for a fair election process, workers will seek to vote their way into a union. They are continuing to call on students, faculty, and other workers to stand up for democracy and for Vassar Security Staff.
—Spencer Resnick ’15 is a member of the Vassar Student/Labor Dialogue. Below are the two letters, the first on behalf of members of the Vassar community and the second on behalf of members of the Vassar and greater Poughkeepsie community.
Dear President Hill,
As you know, workers in the Vassar College security department have begun organizing a union to create a more democratic working environment. With this effort, they will join their co-workers in CWA 1120 and SEIU 200 as union members. Having a union will allow these community members to have collective voice, along with their co-workers in CWA 1120 and SEIU 200, which all members of the Vassar community deserve.
When all workers’ voices are represented and given collective expression, it makes for a better college—not only for these workers, but for all us. Better working conditions mean better living conditions. Greater institutional democracy for workers makes for a stronger community. And a campus where all voices are respected reaffirms the College’s collective commitment to inclusion and excellence. For these reasons, we the undersigned, write in support of the security workers who are organizing for a better future.
A free and fair opportunity to form a union is a fundamental right of every worker. Vassar prides itself on its ability to foster open, fair, and respectful dialogue. The College can realize that commitment by respecting the right of workers to organize in an environment free from pressure or coercion. If workers desire to form a union to make their voices heard, it is incumbent on the entire Vassar community to listen carefully and respectfully. Many institutions similar to Vassar have tried to squelch workers’ voices when they attempt to unionize. In such cases, workers have been met with threats, legal action, and bullying. Dialogue can only flourish when such silencing practices are rejected.
During this union campaign, we believe the College administration has the power to publicly stand for a democratic process and open dialogue. We call on the College to respect a democratic decision of security workers, if indeed, the majority petitions this administration for recognition of a union. The College can set a positive example of how a respectful workplace operates by refraining from engaging in activities aimed at limiting workers’ rights to form a union.
We hope that we can all agree that workers should be free to choose their path forward in a neutral environment where their voices are heard. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the security workers’ efforts to unionize.
—The above letter was signed by 553 Vassar students, 63 Vassar faculty, 98 Vassar alumnae/i, 14 members of SEIU 200, 18 members of CWA 1120 and 34 other individuals.
Dear President Hill,
It has come to our attention that workers in the Vassar College security department are in the process of organizing a union. The undersigned organizations, as members of the Poughkeepsie community in which these workers are embedded, wish to express our support for their efforts and our request for the College to respect their right to organize for collective representation.
As a prominent institution in the region, Vassar College has a responsibility to set an example as an employer that respects the democratic representation of their staff. This respect includes a stance of neutrality during the organizing process so that security staff may freely demonstrate their majority will in the question of forming a union. By recognizing security staff’s choice to enter into a union based on their majority will, Vassar College can realize a commitment to these values.
An institution in which free, democratic process is respected and cultivated is the kind of institution that we want to build our community around. We hope that you share that vision with us.
—Communications Workers of America, Local 1120
—Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation
—Worker’s Justice Center of New York
—Bard College Safety and Security Officer’s Union
—SEIU Local 200 United at Marist
—SEIU Local 200 United at Bard
—Francena Amparo, Dutchess County Legislator
—Joel Tyner, Dutchess County Legislator
—Ann Perry, Poughkeepsie City Council
—Sharon McClinton, Poughkeepsie City Council
—Blair Goodman, Chapter Organizer for Community Voices Heard.