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College declines to recognize student ResLife union, hires Littler Mendelson law firm

March 11, 2024

In an email to the campus community on Friday, Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration & Treasurer Matt Orlando announced that the College will not voluntarily recognize the union organized by student members of Residential Life (ResLife). The College has hired Littler Mendelson, a labor and employment law firm that has represented major corporations like Amazon and Starbucks in anti-union litigation, to represent Bowdoin in negotiations.

Student ResLife staff members organized with the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local (OPEIU) 153, which informed the College of student ResLife workers’ intent to unionize on Monday. Since then, student organizers have collected over 700 signatures from Bowdoin students, faculty and staff in support of the union.

Because of the College’s response, both parties will now work with the Boston office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold a secret-ballot election in which student ResLife workers will vote on whether they want to unionize.

The College has proposed to hold the election on April 3. Student ResLife employees are currently negotiating the time and location of the election. If 50 percent or more of student ResLife staff members vote in favor of unionizing, the College will recognize the union and negotiate a collective bargaining agreement.

“A secret-ballot election organized by the NLRB will ensure that every voice is heard after an opportunity for additional conversation and consideration,” Orlando wrote in an email to the Orient.

In his campus-wide email, Orlando linked to a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page about student ResLife staff’s unionization effort. The page criticized high union fees that student ResLife staff members would have to pay if they unionized.

ResLife student union organizers claim much of the information provided by the College is misleading. While the College claimed that union fees could nullify any increase in pay, the union does not intend to collect dues until first obtaining a raise exceeding membership fees.

The College also suggests that unionizing will create a divide between professional ResLife staff and student employees. According to the FAQ, student ResLife staff have always had a direct working relationship with their professional supervisors.

“In a unionized work environment, this direct communication would be replaced by a legal bargaining relationship between the College and the external labor organization, in this case OPEIU Local 153. The overall impact would likely result in a student work experience that is more transactional and less flexible to address individual RA and proctor needs,” the page said.

Student organizers say they view the publication of the FAQ as the College using anti-union tactics.

“They say this will fundamentally change the culture between employees and managers … that it won’t be flexible or easy to make exceptions, which is blatantly anti-union rhetoric,” organizer Sam Turrigiano ’26 said. “We are able to be just as close with our bosses in a union. The only thing that changes is that we have more of a say about our working conditions.”

Student organizers are also criticizing Bowdoin’s hiring of Littler Mendelson.

“We’ve all heard about the anti-union policies that [Littler Mendelson] employed to break and bust unions. To hear that Bowdoin College, a college that positions itself as a progressive, welcoming institution hired perhaps the nation’s foremost anti-union law firm was shocking,” Turrigiano said. “Our initial reaction was that this was just really wrong.”

Orlando said the College hired Littler Mendelson for the firm’s experience in union negotiations.

“Our community has not had a union vote previously, and we know there are several important steps that we must observe as guided by federal law. We wanted to approach the union vote with both fairness and compliance, so we looked for law firms with deep experience in these matters, including with other colleges and universities. For that reason, we chose Littler Mendelson to work with us to ensure that the process is conducted properly and legally,” Orlando wrote in an email to the Orient.

Student organizers hope to keep the student body and student ResLife staff informed about their efforts ahead of the upcoming election.

“Each and every one of us who are a part of this process believe in the cause. We’re not scared by the fact that Bowdoin has taken these underhanded tactics,” Turrigiano said. “Our number one priority right now is alerting the student body and ResLife staff to the misinformation that is being spread. It’s creating an equal standing point, where Matt Orlando has sent this email that misrepresents us so completely, and we want to make sure the truth is known.”


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One comment:

  1. Lara Dionne, Class of '91 says:

    There you are Bowdoin College. I was wondering when the adults would resume command.

    To the potential new union members, this is how the game is played. The more powerful organization with the deeper pockets is going to hire the best lawyers they can retain, lawyers who have a history of winning.

    Decide if what you are looking to win here is worth it. It may be. The article doesn’t cover the proposed new union’s side very well.

    I have reservations on the new union, though. For Bowdoin College to pull a profoundly off-brand move like this, there must be serious concerns about the financial implications. Bowdoin already costs over $82,000 a year. Exactly how much more inaccessible do we want the college to become?

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