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OPEIU cancels ResLife union vote day before election

April 5, 2024

On Tuesday afternoon, Residential Assistant (RA) and Residential Life (ResLife) union organizer Jack Selig ’23 announced in a statement to all student ResLife staff that the Wednesday election to decide whether student ResLife staff would unionize had been canceled by the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153, the organization representing the union effort. According to union organizers, OPEIU chose to cancel the election and withdraw ResLife’s petition to unionize after deciding that the vote was likely to fail or pass with a weak majority.

OPEIU had asked union organizers to ask ResLife student staff how they planned to vote in advance of the election. By the time OPEIU decided to cancel the election on Tuesday afternoon, an estimated 35 of ResLife’s 78 members planned to vote yes, 18 planned to vote no and the rest were uncertain or did not share their plans, according to union organizer and proctor Patrick Sullivan ’26.

“OPEIU said they usually look for 65 percent yes votes to account for people who may have said yes but didn’t plan to vote yes,” Sullivan wrote in an email to the Orient.

Boody-Johnson House Proctor Philip al Mutawaly ’24, who supported the union, said that OPEIU canceled the election because the vote’s potential failure would have hurt OPEIU’s reputation.

“OPEIU didn’t want to risk the bad publicity, especially because they have other union elections going on at Georgetown … and so it would be a bad look for them if they had a failed unionization attempt here,” al Mutawaly said.

Sam Angevine ’24, who opposed the union, said that OPEIU’s cancellation of the election suggests the organization cares more about its own interests than Bowdoin ResLife.

“It confirmed to me that OPEIU-153 is more concerned with this broader undergraduate labor movement and its own reputation than it is with our concerns,” Angevine said. “And that is a firm I would be hesitant to work with and establish a contract with.”

Selig said OPEIU’s decision was “undemocratic” in an interview with the Orient.

“None of us ever knew that it was even possible to rescind the election and especially for them to do it unilaterally, without our consent,” Selig said.

Scott Williams, ResLife’s OPEIU representative, did not respond to a request for an interview. According to Selig, one of Williams’s bosses decided to cancel the election, not Williams himself. OPEIU also wanted the vote to pass with a supermajority to make the collective bargaining process that follows unionization easier, according to Bowdoin Labor Alliance (BLA) member Ahmad Abdulwadood ’24, who helped advise ResLife union organizers.

“I am frustrated with them … but I understand why they made the decision they made in terms of how effective a collective bargaining effort could be on a first contract with a union that would likely have been passed through a narrow victory, because you need collective consensus to be able to negotiate your first contract,” Abdulwadood said.

Before the election was canceled, OPEIU filed two Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over what union organizers allege was misinformation spread by ResLife professional staff (pro-staff) in a March 26 all-staff ResLife meeting. Selig said it was Williams’ decision to file the complaints, which challenge pro-staff’s claims that student staff would have lost work flexibility under a union.

“[Williams] said that some of the things that pro-staff have said are illegal, so it’s grounds for a ULP. I was pretty hesitant on that…. I asked a lot of questions about what this is going to do, because we’ve talked from the beginning about how this was not a personal thing toward our bosses; it was higher than that, toward the administration,” Selig said. “But he was pretty adamant that he was going to file this, so it felt like that was [Williams’s] decision.”

The NLRB takes seven to 14 weeks to process charges, according to its website. If NLRB approves the charges, RA and union organizer Luke Robinson ’26 said, ResLife staff could unionize without a vote for approval, something organizers are currently not considering.

Robinson said that he didn’t expect the charges to make unionization more likely, even if the NLRB decides the complaints have merit.

“Largely, we filed those charges as a slap on the wrist … but if those charges were to be recognized, you could technically have the union be ratified without a vote, but that’s a terrible idea,” Robinson said. “We’re not going to do that.”

In an interview with the Orient, Senior Vice President for Finance & Administration and Treasurer Matt Orlando said the College is cooperating with the NLRB but doesn’t believe the claims have any merit. ResLife student staff can resubmit the petition to unionize in six months. Abdulwadood said he is optimistic that workers at Bowdoin will try to unionize again in the near future.

“I don’t think this experience is a dead end,” Abdulwadood said. “It’s hard to see in these moments what future seeds may have been planted now, but I have hope and optimism that perhaps other workers on campus will consider the merits of unionization.”


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One comment:

  1. Class of 2025 says:

    A union would have given the average ResLife staff so much more money. So puzzling to vote no on this…

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