LEWISTON — Fourteen months after casting their ballots, Bates College employees learned Thursday they had rejected a proposed union.

National Labor Relations Board staffers who counted the ballots said 254 voted against the union while 186 favored it.

Jeffrey Young, a union lawyer, called the results disappointing.

But, he said, “We will lick our wounds. Tomorrow is a new day.”

The lopsided vote is a clear indication that workers at the college are generally satisfied with the way Bates treats them. Opponents of the union drive said all along they worried a union would undermine the friendly relations between management and staff that have traditionally prevailed at the elite liberal arts institution that employs more than 900 people.

Union organizers said Bates could do better in terms of communication, pay and benefits. But their argument failed to convince a majority of eligible staff to create what would have been one of the larger union locals in the state had it been approved.


Bates President Clayton Spencer said the failure of the unionization drive “has been long and challenging, and individuals will likely have strong — and differing — reactions to this news.”

“Bates aims to provide all employees with competitive wages, strong benefits, and the opportunity to participate in a vibrant campus community,” she said. “These fundamental values will continue to shape our work together to serve our students and provide a transformative undergraduate education.”

“Additionally, during the union organizing campaign, colleagues raised many important issues that merit our attention and action to enhance the employee experience at Bates,” Spencer said. “Work on these issues has already begun, and I look forward to continuing our progress as a community.”

In her message to the Bates community, Spencer thanked everyone for their patience and commitment “to our students, fellow colleagues, and the mission of the college. The work ahead is to make Bates a community where everyone is seen, heard, respected and valued.”

Union supporters said Bates needs to change.

“Of course, we are disappointed in the outcome of our election,” Ben Ray, an organizer who works for the union, said. “However, we’ll continue to stay connected and work to build a voice for us educators and staff on campus.”


“We faced a difficult and heavily-funded anti-union campaign, and still overcame so much together,” he said. “Win or lose, it is clearly time for change at Bates, and although we won’t be able to take this step of forming a union together right now, we are incredibly proud of our organizing and the way our campus has come together over the past 18 months.”

More than 30% of Bates’ union-eligible workforce signed paperwork in the fall of 2021 to join the Maine Service Employees Association. The union vote followed in early 2022.

But the ballots sat in cardboard boxes at the NLRB office in Boston while Bates and the union argued about whether or not support staff and non-tenure-track faculty could be in the same union.

They were finally counted this week, with the dispute unresolved, after federal court ruling in a different case that threw out a Trump-era policy that put off the counting of union ballots when there were pending cases.

Young said he’s not sure what will happen with the pending case before the NLRB. He said, though, the union would like it decided to provide guidance for future organizing drives.

The group that Bates did not want included in the union voted in favor of joining the larger unit, but its support for a union was clearly overshadowed by a lack of support for the idea among most of the college’s support staff.

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