How do we demonstrate solidarity?

Posted by The Editorial Board

In early June, Skidmore received notice from the National Labor Relations Board(NLRB) that The United Public Service Employees Union Local 1222 (UPSEU) was seeking to represent Skidmore employees represented by The Service Employees International Union(SEIU).

In order for an election to take place, 45 workers under SEIU signed UPSEU membership cards. Various Skidmore employees claimed they were tricked into signing these membership cards, told otherwise they would be without union representation.

Between the period of June 1, 2010 through May 31, 2013, 150 Skidmore employees (working in the dining hall, with facilities services, the post office or the stables) were represented by SEIU Local 200 United, as outlined in Article XIV of the contract between Skidmore and SEIU.

In a letter to SEIU members on July 29, President Philip A. Glotzbach urged voters to go non-union, citing financial and service challenges with the pension and healthcare plans offered by SEIU. If voters decided to go non-union or be represented by UPSEU, they would be exiting their pension funds with SEIU prematurely. Skidmore would have to pay its share of unfunded liability to the pension fund, an estimated $4,000,000, according to The Saratogian.

The NLRB conducted an election on Aug. 1 among Skidmore employees. Employees had three options: UPSEU, SEIU or to go non-union. UPSEU received 66 votes, SEIU received 52 votes, and there were 20 votes cast to go non-union. Without a clear majority in the elections, the College must wait to hear from the NLRB regarding a runoff election, according to The Saratogian.

Richard Lipitz, the President of the Western New York Area Labor Federation sent a letter on Sept. 3 to members of SEIU, expressing their concern over UPSEU's alleged attempts to pull members away from SEIU. In the letter, the President described UPSEU as a "rogue" group with "divisive tactics." UPSEU is in fact not recognized by two major labor organizations, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win.

On Sept. 19,students gathered on Case Green for a silent stand the Skidmore Labor Student Alliance (SLSA) described as a demonstration of solidarity with Skidmore service workers. The demonstration was organized around the claim that the administration would be negotiating with SEIU on Thursday morning, and students' desire to make the administration aware that they were conscious of the situation.

While Skidmore service employees absolutely deserve our respect and support, and while several demonstrators expressed the sentiment that through demonstrating they were not taking any sides, it is difficult if not impossible to organize a demonstration that does not (purposely or not) take an accusatory stance towards a certain group. In this case, the stand was meant to make the administration aware that students were "watching" (as posted on and aware of the renegotiations between the College and SEIU. These discussions, which have been taking place since March, occur every three years when each union contract expires.

It seems unfair and impulsive to assume that the administration is reprehensively attempting to negotiate and exploit Skidmore employees. While it is absolutely healthy and necessary to be critical of administrative decisions, in this specific case the College currently has no power to determine the fate of Skidmore employees. The decision of whether to be represented by one of the two unions, or to forego representation at all, will be decided democratically (as it should be) by workers in a future runoff election.

Students should absolutely be informed about on-campus matters, such as unionization decisions. The SLSA hosted an open meeting with current Skidmore employees on Sept. 17, encouraging dialogue within our community. At the same time, this is a decision to be made solely by Skidmore employees. Since the College is awaiting the results of the runoff election, Skidmore is uninvolved in any decisions. Therefore, it seems unproductive to demonstrate to the College that students are "watching" the renegotiations with the College. Union contract renegotiations routinely occur every three years when the contract expires, and it is standard practice for the details of the negotiation to be disclosed until a final decision of representation has been made.

There is no question that Skidmore workers deserve our respect and we applaud students standing in solidarity with our workers, but it seems off that this is the first time in recent memory that a group of students have demonstrated such support for our workers and that the party identified as threatening the security of the workers' livelihoods isn't much of a threat at all. The Skidmore News believes the best way we can support our workers is to be more mindful members of our community and respect our campus and its facilities which Skidmore employees work hard to maintain.

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