Information for student workers about unionization

Mount Holyoke College appreciates the effort and dedication that our student employees bring to the work they perform on campus while pursuing their academic careers. For more than 185 years, we have respected each student’s ability to advocate for themselves, and we continue to support – and are proud of – their thoughtful and purposeful engagement with the world. We are committed to actively participating in good faith negotiations with UFCW Local 1459 to help strengthen our student employees’ experiences and leadership opportunities on campus.

We believe union representation is not a one-size-fits all approach for our students, who come to our campus community from all over the globe and represent various backgrounds and personal experiences. For more than 185 years, we have respected each student’s ability to advocate for themselves and their personal needs on an individualized basis, and we continue to support – and are proud of – their thoughtful and purposeful engagement with the world.

Our student workers have a right to choose what they believe is best for them. We want them to have all the facts, to think through the issues carefully and to make a well-informed, autonomous decision about whether unionization is the best path forward.

UFCW and Mount Holyoke Residential Advisors and Residential Fellows

On September 29, 2022, the College acknowledged receipt of a petition by the United Food & Commercial Workers Union (Local 1459) seeking to represent students working as Residential Advisors and Residential Fellows (RAs/RFs) at Mount Holyoke College. The College believes that an election conducted through the National Labor Relations Board’s well-established processes and procedures is the appropriate means of determining majority support for the UFCW among the Residential Advisors and Residential Fellows.

Frequently asked questions

A labor union is an entity that represents a particular group of workers (the “bargaining unit”), and bargains with the employer on behalf of those workers with respect to the workers’ terms and conditions of employment. The union negotiates and administers collective bargaining agreements with the employer setting forth employment terms and represents its members with regards to disputes over those terms.

Collective bargaining is the process by which an employer and the union discuss and negotiate the terms and conditions of employment for the bargaining unit.

A bargaining unit is a group of employees that share a community of interest with respect to their terms and conditions of employment, and are grouped together for purposes of collective bargaining.

No. However, union representation is determined by a majority of votes cast, just like a political election. This means that a non-vote leaves the decision in the hands of those who do vote, potentially allowing a minority opinion to succeed. For instance, if 70 student workers are eligible to vote, but only 12 actually cast their ballot, and 7 of the 12 vote for the union, then those 7 voters have bound all 70 eligible student workers to be unionized. As with any election on any topic, Mount Holyoke College strongly encourages all eligible voters to cast ballots. In this case, voting will ensure all voices are heard and the outcome that best represents the opinions of the RAs/RFs is the one that prevails.

No. Each voting member is free to make their own decision in the election, regardless of whether they have previously executed a union authorization card.

No. The NLRB voting process is conducted via secret ballot. The NLRB tallies the votes, and then reports them simply with a total number of “yes” and a total number of “no” votes.

If the vote passes, then upon certification of the NLRB UFCW Local 1459 would become the exclusive representative regarding terms and conditions for student workers in the bargaining unit. Legally, Mount Holyoke College would no longer be able deal with any other group previously representing the interests of RAs/RFs, or directly with individual RAs/RFs (even those who voted against or otherwise do not support the union) with respect to wages, hours, schedule changes, time off and other terms and conditions of employment. Any changes to such terms would need to be taken up as part of collective bargaining with the UFCW Local 1459.

Typically, yes. Unions often negotiate for a union security clause in the collective bargaining agreement. A union security clause requires workers in the bargaining unit to join the union as a condition of employment and pay dues. Under such a clause, if a worker in the bargaining unit does not want to join the union, they are generally required to pay an ‘agency fee’ to support the collective bargaining process and, should the worker refuse to pay that fee, the union could insist that the worker be terminated from their job in the bargaining unit. The amount of dues/agency fees varies and depends on the local union’s dues structure.

Generally not. If a collective bargaining agreement is in place, the College generally has no ability to deviate from or make exceptions to the contract to accommodate the individual circumstances of students, absent agreement from the union. Once the bargaining unit is in place, a collective bargaining agreement between the external labor organization and the College would regulate all future terms of employment. This typically results in a standard set of rules and regulations with limited flexibility for specific or individual circumstances.

No. Both the College and the labor organization have a duty to bargain in good faith towards an agreement, and both entities are able to put forth proposals. Neither the College nor the union, however, are required to agree to any demand regarding terms or conditions of employment, including wage increases.

Unfortunately, there is no way to predict the length of negotiations. However, collective bargaining negotiations can be time intensive. Speaking generally, it is not uncommon for negotiations for a first collective bargaining agreement to extend a year or longer after a union’s certification. Admissions workers at Hamilton College voted to be represented by the UFCW in October 2021, for instance, and negotiations toward a collective bargaining agreement remain underway.

No. Once a union is certified as the collective bargaining representative for a unit of employees, everyone employed within the bargaining unit is represented solely by the union.

Eventually, but not for some time and it is rarely done. The National Labor Relations Board does not accept decertification petitions for one calendar year following a union’s certification. In addition, the NLRB generally will not process a petition to decertify a union for the first three years of a valid collective bargaining agreement.

There are no student workers represented by unions at Mount Holyoke.

We have heard from RAs/RFs who do not wish to be represented by the UFCW and are concerned about what to do. The most important thing all RAs and RFs can do to make their voices heard is vote in the forthcoming National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election (date TBD). At the election, you will fill out a ballot that will ask whether you wish to be represented for purposes of collective bargaining by the UFCW, Local 1459. If the answer is no, then cast a “no” vote; if the answer is yes, cast a “yes” vote. RAs and RFs should watch their email inboxes for a “Notice of Election,” which is an NLRB document that the College is required to distribute prior to the election and that will contain additional instructions and information.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is a federal government agency that enforces and administers the National Labor Relations Act. Among other responsibilities, the NLRB (through its regional offices across the country) receives and processes petitions from labor organizations seeking an election for union representation, and conducts and oversees those elections.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is a federal law that protects the rights of certain private-sector employees to, among other things, form or join unions, engage in concerted activity for mutual aid or protection regarding their terms and conditions of employment or refrain from engaging in these activities.

The NLRA only requires employers and unions to bargain collectively over wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. These are generally called “mandatory” subjects of bargaining, over which the employer and the union are required to negotiate. Items not falling within this definition, however, would generally not be subject to mandatory negotiation. These may include topics like major and degree requirements, admissions policies, course offerings, faculty hiring matters, College governance, tuition and costs of attendance, or academic policies, among others.

The extent to which each bargaining unit member can express their views and influence the contract depends on the internal procedures and the decision-making process of the particular union and its officers.

It depends on how long the parties have agreed the term of the contract will last, although three years is common. The parties are obligated to negotiate a new contract upon expiration of the previous contract.

Yes. Please know, however, that some individual supervisors may feel most comfortable refraining altogether from engaging in discussion or debate with individual students on this matter, and instead point you to this website or to the NLRB's website.