Campus Safety Moves Forward With Union Plans
Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
A week after Campus Safety officers voted to unionize, both the administration and the officers are looking ahead to negotiating new contracts.
“From my perspective, we are committed to negotiating a contract with the [Security, Police, Fire Professionals of America] and doing that in the least contentious way possible,” Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman said.
Officers echoed Kohlman’s cautious optimism in interviews this week.
“I know that everyone here is really anxious to have communication across the table,” said Safety officer J.P. Downes. “I’m hoping that open communication comes back to us and we can have a good faith agreement that’s fair and beneficial to both sides.”
Director of Campus Safety Bob Hooper remains tentatively supportive. “It was their choice to move this direction, and they have the right to do that and we’ll respect that and we’ll move forward,” he said.
Officers hope the new union will improve morale and build camaraderie.
“But it’s also about having a voice, within the department and within the College,” Downes said. “That is the main reason that we’re doing the things that we’re doing.”
The decision to form a local chapter of the SPFPA came after the officers first tried to organize under the banner of the United Steel Workers (USW), according to officers and College officials. Because the USW is not authorized under federal labor law to represent safety officers, however, they could not ask the College to recognize the results of an election.
Instead, they sent a letter to College administrators, including Kohlman and President S. Georgia Nugent, asking that Kenyon voluntarily recognize a union formed under the banner of the USW.
“We said, ‘No, thank you,’” Nugent said.
The officers then turned to the SPFPA, which has a right under federal labor law to represent security professionals and therefore would have the backing of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Unlike the USW, the SPFPA does not have a chapter in Ohio. Its closest office is in Michigan. After gathering a petition showing support for unionization, Safety officers filed it with the NLRB. Kenyon administrators first learned of the officers’ intentions to organize under the SPFPA from the NLRB.
After the administration was notified, Kohlman met several times with officers to hear their concerns and argue on behalf of the College that forming a union would not be in their interest.
“I took the position that I think that the working relationship between [the Safety officers and] the college is a good one,” Kohlman said. “We have lots of processes in place for dispute resolution, for issue resolution. In our handbook, we have all of these guidelines for how we deal with discipline and we deal with all kinds of personnel things that one would typically find in a union contract but that we already have in place.”
Negotiating a contract may be a lengthy process, according to Nugent.
That uncertainty is exacerbated by the necessity of building the contract essentially from scratch.
“[You] enter into contract negotiations, which can be lengthy. Especially when you’re establishing the first contract, everything is on the table, in essence,” Nugent said. “You start from scratch about what will be the benefits, all the conditions of employment. I have no idea how long that process will take.”
Safety officers interviewed said the newly unionized group would seek an increase in compensation, but other concerns included improving grievance procedures and establishing themselves as contracted employees who cannot be fired at any time.
Currently, Safety officers, like all non-union employees in the State of Ohio, are employed on an at-will basis.
Under this classification, their employment may be terminated at any time, with or without cause.
Representatives of the College, likely including Kohlman, and a group of Safety officers selected by their colleagues will conduct negotiations. Representatives from the SPFPA will advise the officers during negotiations.
In addition to selecting members of a negotiating team, the Safety officers will elect a president, vice president and treasurer for their local chapter. These elections, however, will occur only once the NLRB officially certifies the results of the vote to unionize.
Even without that certification, officers said morale amongst their ranks has greatly improved since the vote.
“We are a more tight-knit unit than I’ve ever seen,” Downes said.