Bennington College recognizes new labor union of faculty, staff, campus safety workers

By TIFFANY TAN

VTDigger

Published: 02-20-2024 5:41 PM

Bennington College has voluntarily recognized a new labor union comprised of the college’s faculty, staff and campus safety workers after a third party confirmed its legitimacy.

The American Arbitration Association completed the card-check process and found that a majority of employees in each group signed up to be members of Bennington College United, the college administration and the labor union said in a joint statement Friday.

The arbitration association, which the two sides agreed would conduct the card check, certified its findings on Tuesday, according to documents that Bennington College United shared on social media.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Liam Hefta, a campus safety officer, explaining that about a dozen campus safety officers, dispatchers and administrative staff who discussed unionizing back in 2022 have since resigned. “It’s only me now from that time.”

Union organizers said Bennington College United has at least 150 members. They encompass full-time and visiting faculty as well as hourly and salaried staff, including campus safety workers.

Organizers said the members represent about 70% of those eligible to join the group, the first faculty and staff union at Bennington College since the school was founded in 1932.

Union representatives told VtDigger they are eager to begin bargaining with the college administration in March on a contract for their members. The issues that spurred their unionization efforts last spring include low morale and high turnover among employees, formalizing a non-retaliation policy for employees who speak out, lack of transparency around the college’s financial situation and absence of a uniform policy on benefits and raises.

“We’ve been prepared for this for so long,” said Nina Musco, a technical instructor in science and a member of the union’s bargaining team. “The longer we wait, the more staff and faculty we seem to be losing to our high turnover.”

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Hefta, the campus safety officer, said one of his unit’s major concerns is the work space. He described the campus safety office as little more than a walk-in closet with an attached kitchen and restroom area.

“Our dispatchers are gritting their teeth and working with it,” he said, “but I’ve seen already too many times the amount of folks who come in eager to do a good job and after a couple of months bounce off of it just because it’s an exhausting condition in which to work.”

Employees who are eligible to join the union but have not done so are also waiting to see what the group can accomplish on behalf of its members, said Jen Liu, a professor of film/video who is part of the bargaining team.

She said that, although Bennington College United has three bargaining units — the college administration’s precondition for voluntary recognition — the union believes bargaining as one group would benefit both sides.

“As much as we’re separate units, we really are all facing the same issues not only on campus, but in the community as well,” Musco said, adding that bargaining as one would also save everyone time and money.

The Bennington College administration did not respond to a message Friday confirming if it expects collective bargaining to begin in March. It also did not say whether it will insist on bargaining with the three units separately, or if it’s open to bargaining with one team from the union.

The college’s dining hall workers and buildings and grounds personnel are already unionized under the Service Employees International Union, according to AFT Vermont, an umbrella labor union that represents 9,000 health care and higher education professionals in the state.`