Organizers Charge Anti-Union Practices
MONTPELIER - On the day faculty members at the Community College of Vermont were deciding whether to unionize, labor organizers and some instructors accused the administration of retaliating against pro-union instructors and of misusing taxpayer and tuition dollars in an effort to defeat the union. CCV President Tim Donovan has denied the charge, but union organizers say they plan to file a formal complaint with the Vermont Labor Relations Board.
CCV's full- and part-time teachers voted by mail last week on whether to form a union. As of press time, 85 percent of the 464 instructors who are eligible to vote had cast ballots. The results will be announced October 4. CCV is currently Vermont's only state college without a faculty union.
Jennifer Henry is president of the United Professions-AFT of Vermont. At a press conference last Friday at the Statehouse, Henry accused the CCV administration of spending "thousands, and perhaps tens of thousands, of dollars" on anti-union mailings and an anti-union website. Since July, Donovan has mailed out at least three letters on CCV letterhead urging instructors to vote in the election. Those letters stated reasons why Donovan and other faculty members oppose the union's formation.
"The amount of misinformation, intimidation and, in some cases, retaliation against pro-union instructors have made it impossible to have a free and fair election at CCV," Henry added. Pro-union faculty say they launched the grassroots union effort two years ago in an effort to get CCV instructors more job security, better pay, retirement benefits, paid office hours and other perks.
Heather Mitchell, one of the 12-member union-organizing committee, has taught writing at CCV for six years. She claims she is one of "several" instructors who have been intimidated and retaliated against for her union activities. Despite what she claims is an "excellent" teaching record at CCV, "In May 2006 my employment was suddenly terminated," she says. "The reason given was that instructors had to be mixed up to 'freshen the pool.'" Intimidating and/or retaliating against workers for union-related activities is illegal under the National Labor Relations Act.
While CCV's Donovan acknowledges that the administration spent $2500 on the mailings, he denies that the money was misused. He notes that a CCV web designer created the website on her own time, and that he wrote its contents himself.
"The goal of the letters, more than anything else, was to say, 'Vote. We need 100 percent participation in this,'" Donovan says. "If our faculty chooses to be represented by a union, of course we will respect their right to do that. I also respect their right not to be."
Donovan also denies that Mitchell and other instructors have been intimidated, pressured or not rehired as a result of their union activities, "I know of no basis for those charges," he says.
CCV is unique among Vermont's institutions of higher learning. Instead of a central campus, the college has 12 learning centers around the state as well as online course offerings. This fall, CCV enrolled about 6000 students, its largest incoming class ever, according to Donovan.
Part of CCV's growing appeal is its open enrollment and affordability. In fact, many CCV instructors who have expressed their opposition to the union say they're concerned that it would drive up tuition costs and add another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy for an already far-flung faculty.
"I'd be far more willing to entertain the notion of a union if the students and their learning were front and center in this debate," instructor Jonas Hart writes on a section of the CCV website devoted to soliciting faculty feedback. "So far, that doesn't appear to be the case."
G. Jason Conway, a CCV instructor who teaches in Burlington and St. Albans, writes that he's strongly opposed to the union, and is angry that it's creating an adversarial relationship between the faculty and the administration.
"I believe in the old Vermont saying, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,' and I clearly do not see anything broken in the way that CCV operates at present," Conway says.