Goddard College union debate heating up
By Eric Blaisdell
STAFF WRITER | January 17,2013
PLAINFIELD — With a staff vote on unionizing less than a week away, some employees at Goddard College say they are disappointed with the school’s “anti-union rhetoric” and think the school may have damaged its reputation by going against its history of progressive social awareness.
But school officials have hinted that the union drive could hurt Goddard financially, including by alienating donors.
Staff members are to vote Wednesday at the school’s campus in Plainfield by secret ballot. If the vote is in favor, the staff will become members of United Auto Workers Local 2322, which already represents the faculty.
The school in November declined the union’s request that staff be included in Local 2322 without a vote, saying it wanted to make sure all the staff wanted to join the union.
Kitchen worker Jeff Dutton said he was surprised by the school’s response to the union drive. He said the school sent staff members links to websites recently trying to show an alternative view of unions, but that the websites were in fact run by national anti-union lobbyists that have been used by the likes of Wal-Mart in its attempt to keep employees from unionizing.
Dutton said that from a business standpoint he can understand the school’s fear of the staff unionizing because of the unstable economic climate.
“(School administrators’) job is to oversee budgets and cost controls. They don’t necessarily weigh the long-term benefits and savings in taking care of employees and making employees happy.
“It’s very easy to lose sight of that.”
While he would not say which way he is voting, Dutton said his mind is made up.
One area school administrators have said may be hurt in the union debate is donations. Goddard officials declined to be interviewed for this story, but in an email to faculty and staff, Chief Advancement Officer Lauren Geiger Moye addressed criticism of the school’s stance on the union and how that criticism may affect potential donors and the future of the school.
“And just at the point when the college has achieved tremendous momentum, this negative debate and public references to intimidation could seriously undermine the progress we have made with the external audiences we must depend upon to thrive and excel,” Moye wrote. “I strongly believe that if President Vacarr’s current efforts are not successful, the impact of unionization on our campus will be the last thing we will need to be concerned about. The college’s very survival and the employment opportunities here for all of us will be at risk.”
Dutton said he does not think the union will hurt donations from alumni and people who have a history with Goddard.
“If you are looking for corporate, mainstream donations, maybe,” he said.
Paul Somerset is the school’s executive chef and kitchen supervisor. He is not eligible to join the union now because he is a supervisor but said he would like to join if eligibility is expanded.
Somerset said the school should be supportive of unions now, as it was in 1998 when the board of trustees allowed the teachers to unionize without even taking a vote. He said that even to hint at opposition to unions goes against the school’s mission statement, which reads: “To advance cultures of rigorous inquiry, collaboration, and lifelong learning, where individuals take imaginative and responsible action in the world.”
Somerset also said he sees a contradiction between the school’s hosting of an event celebrating the Occupy Wall Street movement last year, coupled with the anti-conservative talk he heard around campus leading up to the November elections, and the school’s decision not to support the union and to spread “anti-union rhetoric,” a tactic he said is also used by conservative politicians.
In a statement about the “Occupy” event last February, Goddard President Barbara Vacarr said, “Goddard College has strong roots as an activist college. Institutions of higher education have a duty to foster and encourage student activism and citizen participation.”
Somerset did give Vacarr credit for facilitating an open and honest dialogue about the union drive. He also gave her credit for meeting with his staff two weeks ago to address their concerns about their status as temporary employees, because of the nature of the school calendar, who are not eligible for unemployment.
He did call the timing of the meeting suspect, however, saying he’s been trying to have the concerns addressed since he started working there a year and a half ago.
Kitchen worker Adam Woogmaster supports the union. He said the school should be embracing it with open arms and an open heart and agreed the administration’s response reflects fear about the bottom line.
Goddard’s administration did release a statement confirming the school’s hesitation to support the union out of fears it will cost the school money.
“We have deep concerns about whether this is the best time for a union on campus, that a union won’t add to the resources available to us and will place a further strain on those resources,” the statement said.
The statement also said the school continues to respect and is committed to supporting the right of its employees to choose whether they want representation by a union.
“We recognize that Goddard staff are not a homogeneous group, and as all things at Goddard there are diverse perspectives and opinions related to unionization,” the statement said.