On Wednesday, April 6, Keene State College faculty and staff voted to unionize three staff groups on campus in addition to the already existing faculty and Campus Safety unions. This means that KSC now has six unions working together to negotiate things like fair contracts and wage equality, but overall strengthen KSC employee voices in campus government.
The new unions are separated into three categories:
Administrative Operating Staff/ Administrative Assistants (AA)
Professional Administrative and Technical staff (PAT)
Supervisors and Directors
The new groups will join faculty unions KSCEA, KSCAA and Campus Safety, which is unionized by Teamsters.
KSC union organizing committee member and KSC Program Manager for Diversity and Multiculturalism Initiatives Kim Schmidl-Gagne said the push for staff unionization has been in the works for about four years.
Schmidl- Gagne said it’s been almost a year-long process to get to a vote, and that last May there was a gathering to see if there was any serious interest and over 100 people attended.
“I think people just started to want to be able to have a stronger voice and be able to collaborate with the administration and create guidelines for whatever situations might arise and have performance evaluations and discuss things like merit pay and raises,” Schmidl-Gagne said.
Schmidl-Gagne said that none of the PATs and operating staff have individual contracts.
“There’s a PAT handbook, operating staff handboo and staff handbook that gives us guidelines of how things work but if something goes wrong you’re kind of on your own. For example, you’d have to pay for your own lawyer,” Schmidl-Gagne said.
For example, Schmidl-Gagne said that staff don’t know year-to-year if they will get a raise and how much it will be versus faculty who negotiate contracts for three years, “so they [faculty] at least know for three years that they will get a one or two percent raise or whatever it is.”
Schmidl-Gagne said that she hopes unionizing will provide some stability and predictability for staff.
She explained that each one of these units has similar needs and different needs.
For example, Schmidl-Gagne said that faculty don’t need to think too much about vacation time because they work the academic calendar, but staff do because most of them work year-round.
“What I hope we do is gather those things that we share in common and find ways to involve all units and make the best decisions for the units and the campus and those places where we’re different. I want to support the other units and do what’s best for the individuals, the campus and students,” Schmidl-Gagne said.
Schmidl-Gagne stressed that people are coming to unions for different reasons.
She said hers is her belief in shared governance and “to make sure that all voices have equal representation in the governance of this campus.”
However, giving all voices equal representation wasn’t successful in one area.
Schmidl-Gagne said that is important to acknowledge that, although the physical plant and grounds crew are listed as operating staff, physical plant and grounds decided that unionization was not the direction they wanted to take.
General Maintenance Mechanic for KSC Physical Plant and Grounds Geoff Davis agreed that he personally did not feel the need to unionize, but that he did wish that the staff who did want to unionize had more options to be included.
Davis said that the grounds crew has always had a good relationship with the college and that the crew is “just going to see how things pan out.” Davis said that he doesn’t see grounds unionizing in the future because of scheduling conflicts.
“I think it would be hard for us [to unionize] because we work so many different schedules that it would be hard to agree on what would be equal across the board for us. I think it would be a lot of time spent on negotiation, and I don’t think we have a need to negotiate anything. I think everything is black and white the way it is,” Davis said.
In regard to if he feels grounds crew would still have a strong voice on campus, Davis said, “I do [think we have a strong voice] but I think there will be some reorganization because the [operating staff] council is going to change how we’re represented and how we have our talks with the college.”
Along with grounds, there is an additional 30 percent of employees who aren’t a part of the new units because of the positions they hold at the college, according to KSC President Anne Huot.
Huot said these employees are labeled as confidential employees.
She said, “For example, these employees are people who work in human resources or people who work directly with the president or have access to info that’s confidential.”
Huot said that process was agreed upon with the union, and both parties mutually agreed on a list of employees who would be considered confidential employees.
Huot said it is a different way of doing business, but she looks forward to working with whoever emerges as the leaders for each union.
“It’s a different way; it’s a different process. It’s now a process where within each of the units everyone belongs to that organized unit and the people that speak for those are officers within those units. In the past we’ve had more of a group of employees representing the operating staff and PAT staff. So it’s a different way of doing business together, but not one that I think is a negative. I think being represented is the choice of the staff, and we’ll work collaboratively,” Huot said.
In regard to being represented, Schmidl-Gagne said she wanted to make it clear that union organizer NEA-NH works for the unions now.
“They work for us. We will lead negotiations, and we will have our own leadership on campus. NEA-NH is there for assistance and guidance on things like provide training and legal support,” Schmidl-Gagne said.
Schmidl-Gagne said this process “feels much more democratic and participatory” rather than the current system.
She said she hopes that there will be more “two-way dialogue.”
“I hope people feel that their voice isn’t just important when voting, but that it will be important going forward,” Schmidl-Gagne Said.
NEA-NH representative for the Monadnock Region Rachel Hawkinson stated in an email, “NEA-NH is delighted to welcome the Keene State College Staff Association, Keene State College Administrative Staff Association, and Keene State College Directors and Supervisors Association to New Hampshire’s largest association of public employees. We are looking forward to helping the dedicated professionals of Keene State College ensure they receive the resources, respect and recognition they deserve to support their college community.”
Kendall Pope can be contacted at email@example.com