Community Safety Seeks to Unionize

Photo courtesy of Elai Kobayashi-Solomon

Photo courtesy of Elai Kobayashi-Solomon

The Reed College Community Safety Officers (CSOs) are attempting to unionize. Unionization efforts began last September, 2018, when several CSOs began to actively explore potential avenues for union formation. Since then, the movement has garnered unanimous support from CSOs and dispatchers alike, and it is currently engaged in efforts to gain official recognition from the Reed administration.

Interest in CSO unionization has existed for several years, but high turnover rates have historically made it difficult for them to engage in collective organizing. However, according to alum Cassie Bianchi ‘09, a Community Safety dispatcher actively involved in initial union organization efforts, the current group of CSOs has remained uncharacteristically consistent. There were no new hires in 2018, and all fifteen CSOs, who patrol the campus, and three dispatchers, who primarily work in 28 West, have worked for Reed Community Safety for over a year. This has provided an opportunity for those interested in unionization, such as Bianchi, to take active steps towards forming consensus and fostering communication amongst the Community Safety employees.

Bianchi and her colleagues faced several difficulties in organizing a coordinated CSO unionization movement. The movement wanted to ensure that all CSOs were provided an opportunity to express their input and opinions regarding the unionization process, but scheduling collective meetings was a challenge. Because the Community Safety Office is open twenty-four hours a day and CSOs are constantly on duty, it was near impossible to find times that worked for all officers.

Despite such hurdles, the CSO unionization movement has gathered widespread support amongst officers and dispatchers, and it has made multiple attempts to engage with the Reed administration. However, according to Community Safety dispatcher Dashiell Harrison ‘16, Reed’s administration has been “receptive but not responsive.”

“During a meeting, either with Community Safety management or HR, someone will always listen, but nothing happens,” Harrison said. “Sometimes we’ll be told that [the administration] is in the process of solving a problem, but check in two, three, four months down the line, and there has been absolutely no progress made.”

Director of Community Safety Gary Granger declined to comment.

While the immediate goal of the unionization effort is to gain recognition from the Reed administration, there are several issues the movement hopes to address. These include providing a platform for CSOs to voice their opinions and concerns, and instituting a policy to ensure that CSOs operate in pairs. According to Harrison, CSOs have increasingly found themselves scheduled to single-person shifts, a situation which not only defies Community Safety training standards but fundamentally compromises CSOs’ ability to respond to incidents safely and efficiently.

Ultimately, both Bianchi and Harrison believe that such changes will benefit not only the CSOs, but the Reed community as a whole. “A lot of our concerns are about our ability to do our jobs properly and keep the students safe.” Harrison said. “It’s about helping the department run better, helping the college run better, helping keep campus safe.”

Bianchi agrees. “I think this will be as good for Reed as it is for the CSOs,” Bianchi said. “We’ve taken a lot of steps in recent years to keep CSOs at Reed, and CSOs are beginning to stick around. The more that CSOs can understand the culture and the campus… the better they can serve the [Reed community].”

According to Harrison, the struggle for CSO unionization also reflects upon Reed’s commitment to its community values. “Reed has a set of community values that are over a hundred years old,” Harrison said. “Respect for the needs, thoughts, and views of staff members are… an important part of that overall package of values. I see this [unionization effort] as helping Reed live up to its own values.”

Seth Douglas, a former student who graduated in 2018 and was one of the organizers of the House Advisers’ Union and Student Worker Coalition at Reed weighed in on the issue when reached for comment. “I hope Reed’s administrators will do the right thing, and recognize any union of any of Reed’s employees,” Douglas urged. Elaborating on the issue, he clarified “My experience litigating and organizing on behalf of the SWC [Student Worker Coalition] suggests that they will not do so unless they are made to do so,” recalling the ongoing struggle for House Advisors to unionize.

On the topic of Community Safety, Douglas added, “I think it is imperative for Reed’s future that its administrators are forced to come to the table and negotiate with their workers as equals… If we want CSOs who are accountable to student concerns about bias and discrimination, and will respond to student needs, the best way to ensure that is not to appeal to the bosses and managers, but to stand in solidarity with our fellow workers and community members.”

Offering his own remedy in the event of pushback from the administration, Douglas called for students to respond in solidarity with CSOs, should the administration remain opposed to labor unions. “I would encourage students to strike, on their own if need be,” he said. “I would encourage, at the same time, students and alumni together to organize a donations strike. I hope, as well, that this is only the first of many organizing efforts to come.”

“If we want to win a better Reed, we are going to have to fight for it. It’s a fight worth having.”

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