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Frequently Asked Questions


Potential Unionization of Hamilton College Admission Senior Fellows and Tour Guides

Hamilton has developed a series of Frequently Asked Questions about the potential unionization of Admission Senior Fellows and Tour Guides. The College wants these student workers to have all the facts, to think through the issues carefully, and to make a well-informed individual choice.

Hamilton College Statement on Union Vote, Oct. 12, 2021

The National Labor Relations Board has counted the ballots and a majority of those Admission student workers who voted selected union representation. Hamilton supports the right of workers to choose what they believe is best for them. We recognize that there were strong opinions on both sides of this issue, and we encourage everyone to work together as we move forward. As always, Hamilton greatly appreciates all of the hard work and dedication that our student employees bring to the jobs they perform while pursuing their academic careers.

About Labor Unions

What is a labor union?

A union is a legal entity that negotiates and administers collective bargaining agreements with the employers of dues-paying members, detailing the terms and conditions of employment.

What is the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)?

The U.S. NLRA (29 U.S.C. §§ 151-169) was enacted by Congress in 1935 in an era when there were no employment-related legal rights. The NLRA does not promote or discourage unions, but rather gives workers the right to choose and the process for making the choice. The NLRA is overseen by a federal agency called the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

How commonly do workers make the choice to join a union?

Union membership in the U.S. in the private sector peaked back in 1954 at 34% of the total workforce. Today only 6% choose to work in a union environment. The reasons for this decline include the rise of federal and state employment legal protections, improved management practices, and the cost of union dues and other workplace conditions in unionized settings.

What is the process to form a union?

The legal process starts with the filing of a petition with the NLRB requesting an election. The petition must be supported by signatures from at least 30% of the workers in the potential bargaining unit. The NLRB then schedules the election, at which point each worker in the voting group can vote yes for the union or no to remain union-free. This is a secret ballot election, so all voters (whether or not they signed for the election) can make their own decision. The outcome is decided by the majority of votes cast.

What qualifies as unfair labor practice?

An unfair labor practice is an action by an employer or a union that violates the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Examples include threats, discrimination, or retaliation on the basis of union activity; asking how employees will vote in an election to establish a union; and refusal to bargain with an established union.

Petition for Union Representation on Behalf of Admission Senior Fellows and Tour Guides

Which union has filed to represent Admission Senior Fellows and Tour Guides at Hamilton?

The United Food and Commercial Workers District Union Local One. This union represents workers, most of them employed in grocery stores, in Upstate New York and Northern Pennsylvania. Membership in UFCW Local One has declined from more than 27,000 dues-paying members 20 years ago to approximately 13,000 today.

What’s next? What is the timeline set by the NLRB?

Now that a petition has been filed, the process moves according to a schedule and rules set by the NLRB. The following summarizes required institutional actions:

  • Hamilton received a Notice of Petition for Election from the NLRB on Aug. 24, the first indication of interest by Admission Senior Fellows and Tour Guides to form a union.
  • On Aug. 26, an email was sent to Admission Senior Fellows and Tour Guides to recognize receipt of the Notice of Petition for Election, which was also posted in the student worker room of Siuda House. The petition acknowledged that “no final decisions have been made yet regarding the appropriateness of the proposed unit or whether an election will be held in this matter.”
  • The College filed its Statement of Position on Sept. 3.
  • The petitioner filed a Responsive Statement of Position form and served it on all parties named in the petition responding to the issues raised in the employer’s Statement of Position, such that it is received no later than noon Eastern Time on Sept. 9.
  • The NLRB has set Sept. 24 from 9 a.m to noon and 3-6 p.m. in the Sadove Student Center first floor conference room as the date for the election. Mail ballots will be sent to eligible off-campus voters on Sept. 24 and must be received no later than Oct. 8.
  • Ballots will be counted on Oct. 12 at 11 a.m. in Buffalo.

Are student workers allowed to meet individually with their supervisors in Admission or ask them questions about unions and an election?

Yes. As always, Admission Office supervisors and leaders welcome conversations with student workers and will make themselves available for any questions and will be responsive to meeting requests.

Managers have the right to express their own opinion, encourage student workers to choose wisely, provide and discuss factual information about unions, and explain the disadvantages of a unionized workplace and the advantages of a union-free workplace.

Union organizers cannot stop Admission Senior Fellows and Tour Guides from talking with their supervisors about the election or about anything else.

When a petition for an election is filed, are employers allowed to continue business as usual and proceed with changes such as pay increases that were planned before the petition?

Yes. Employers are permitted to maintain current terms and conditions of employment including following through on pre-planned actions and well-established patterns and practices. However, if a union is elected, any future changes would be subject to the collective bargaining process."

Who can vote in the election?

Only current Admission Tour Guides and Senior Fellows are eligible to vote in the upcoming election.

 

Are votes made public?

No. The NLRB protects the secrecy of each voter’s choice. The NLRB will only publish the total number of yes votes and the total number of no votes. 

What happens if I don’t vote?

Voter turnout is critical in many elections. In this case, approximately 55 Admission Tour Guides and Senior Fellows are eligible to vote. If only 35 actually cast a ballot and 18 vote yes, then the union would become the exclusive spokesperson and decision maker with respect to the terms and conditions of employment for all 55, as well as for future Tour Guides and Senior Fellows. Not voting means you are leaving a decision that will affect you for others to make, and possibly allowing a minority opinion to prevail. The College strongly encourages everyone to vote so that the outcome will reflect the true majority wishes of all Tour Guides and Senior Fellows.

Besides casting my vote, what else can I do if I feel strongly about this issue?

You have a legally protected right to share your opinion with other members of the voting group. You can express your views and the reasons for your views publicly or directly to your peers, either in writing or verbally. No one can be retaliated against for expressing their view on this issue, and no one should allow their voice to be suppressed because of intimidation. Remember, this election doesn't just affect current Tour Guides and Senior Fellows; it also affects the College as an institution and all future students who have enough enthusiasm for Hamilton to want to become Tour Guides and Senior Fellows.

What happens if the majority of voters choose a union in the election?

The union immediately would become the exclusive spokesperson and decision-maker for all Tour Guides and Senior Fellows with respect to terms and conditions of employment. By law the College would be prohibited from dealing with student employees as individuals and immediately precluded from making any future changes to the terms without engaging in the collective bargaining process with the union. Examples of terms and conditions include hours worked, ability to change scheduled work days, taking time off for sick leave or mental health days, and dress code.

How Labor Unions Affect Work Practices

How would a union change the student work experience?

Unionization means important changes in the work environment. Students who work at Hamilton College have always had a direct relationship with the College as their employer, in addition to their academic relationship. Each student worker and each supervisor or manager can freely communicate with one another about any issue at any time, work together to address workplace issues and  develop individualized arrangements. In a unionized work environment, the direct employment relationship between each student worker and the College would be replaced by a legal bargaining relationship between the College and the external labor organization, in this case UFCW Local One. The College would be legally prohibited from dealing with student workers directly over any terms and conditions of employment. The union would negotiate a one-size-fits-all collective bargaining agreement between the UFCW and the College governing the terms of employment. Union work environments are typically formalistic and rule-driven. The overall impact would likely be a work experience that is less personal and more transactional. Unions also require payment of dues.

How will union dues affect my take-home pay if they are taken out of my wages?

According to UFCW Local One’s most recent financial statement on file with the U.S. Dept. of Labor (statement for period ending 12/31/20), dues range from a minimum of $6.85 to a maximum of $12.80 per week.

FOR EXAMPLE ONLY Hourly Rate $12.75 Approximate Minimum Monthly Union Dues Net Monthly (4 weeks) Pay before Taxes
Weekly Pay for 2 Hours/Week $25.50 $30.00 Before dues $102.00
After dues $72.00  
29.4% reduction
Weekly Pay for 5 Hours/Week $63.75 $30.00 Before dues $255.00
After dues $225.00  
11.8% reduction
Weekly Pay for 10 Hours/Week $127.50 $30.00 Before dues $510.00
After dues $480.00  
5.9% reduction

Does joining a union guarantee higher wages?

No. If elected, the UFCW and the College would engage in collective bargaining in a good-faith effort to reach a mutually agreeable labor contract. However, neither party is required to accept any particular proposal that the other party makes. There is no guarantee of a wage increase, and there is no guarantee that the final contract would be better than what the student workers had before the union.

How long do the bargaining negotiations typically last?

According to one source, it takes, on average, 409 days for a new union to finalize a labor agreement.

Could student workers opt out of the bargaining unit?

No. Under the NLRA, all student workers holding positions encompassed by the bargaining unit description would be represented by the union and bound by its decisions on behalf of the unit if it is elected as collective bargaining representative. Individual student workers cannot opt out of the bargaining unit after the election.

If the union is elected, could student workers just as easily vote the union out if they change their minds?

No. Federal labor law makes it very difficult to remove a union once it has been certified as the legal bargaining representative for a unit of employees. Any attempt to remove the union is prohibited during the one-year period following an election. Furthermore, any attempt to remove a union is prohibited during the term of a collective bargaining agreement, except for a narrow 30-day window near the contract expiration. Since most collective bargaining agreements have a term of three years, the practical effect if the union is elected is that it could be locked in place for up to four years (e.g., one year of bargaining followed by a three-year contract). After that, the opportunity to remove a union would likely only occur for 30 days once every three years. Even then, the decertification process is difficult and employers are prohibited from providing any assistance to employees who wish to remove the union. Thus, decertification is very rare, and the decision to unionize is practically irreversible in most cases. 

Do undergraduate student worker unions exist on other college campuses?

News stories about the petition for an NLRB election at Hamilton have stated that this could be a first in the nation. In fact, undergraduate student worker unions represent a small fraction of one percent of all student workers at U.S. colleges and universities.

What is the College’s position?

Hamilton is first and foremost an educational institution, with faculty and staff dedicated to supporting students in all aspects of their campus experience, including on-campus employment, which often provides opportunities for experiential learning. While unions for private sector workers (as opposed to government workers) have played a vital role in the past, and continue to do so in some settings, the College believes unions may not be a good fit for undergraduate workers. The College believes it is not a coincidence that unions are so rare among undergraduate student workers. The College strongly prefers to maintain a direct working relationship with student workers and hopes that relationship will not be severed in favor of an outside organization, with interests and an agenda that may well differ from what’s best for Hamilton students.

That said, the College fully supports the right of any workers to choose what they believe is best for them. In the process currently underway for our Admission Tour Guides and Senior Fellows, the College wants these students to have all the facts, to think through the issues carefully, and to make a well-informed individual choice.

The College takes pride in providing a positive working environment, maintaining open communications, and hearing from students about any issues or concerns. This notice came as a surprise because there was no communication from these student workers that they had grievances causing them to want to form a union. Admission Senior Fellows and Tour Guides are two of the most sought-after and prestigious leadership positions at Hamilton, earned through a competitive and rigorous application process. The College is proud of the work they do and respects each of them as young professionals.

Contact Information


Student Employment Office

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