Opinion: A Fair Process for CSO Unionization

Everyone who signs up to work as an officer or dispatcher at Community Safety knows that their jobs will require them to work an irregular schedule, deal with distressed or disagreeable people, and confront hazardous and unsanitary conditions. We took these jobs because we care about the Reed College community and the health and welfare of its students, faculty, and staff. We still care. At this time, however, we have determined that we cannot adequately do our jobs without a legally enforceable guarantee of respect and support from the administration.

Over the past several years, CSOs have observed a number of concerning developments within the department, which we believe jeopardize student safety, and indicate a lack of respect for CSOs and the work we do on behalf of the college.

One of the most important issues is one of staffing. Reed College’s Community Safety department has been operating with a “two officers, one dispatcher” staffing model. Newly hired officers are trained to operate within this model. The two officer-model is critical for campus safety, not only because it ensures an adequate and consistent presence on campus but because two officers are required to properly perform Community Safety best practices during emergency situations. In the event of a medical emergency, for instance, the dispatcher communicates with 911, an officer stabilizes the scene of the emergency and renders first aid, and a second officer meets EMS at the entrance to campus and escorts them to the scene of the emergency. Because of the size of Reed’s campus, all three roles are critical, and the inability to fill all three can result in a delay of emergency services. In addition to enabling smooth and effective operations, a fully staffed department means CSOs can do the day-to-day work of building the relationships with students, staff, and faculty that strengthen our community.

In past years, the department ensured adequate staffing by maintaining four full-time employees (three officers and a dispatcher) for each shift, as well as a large pool of “on-call” officers who could be called in to cover gaps in the schedule. In the event that coverage could not be found, managers could take on field duties to ensure that no CSO would have to work alone. Over the course of the past year, managers have shown an increasing reluctance to take on dispatch or field duties, and officers who have left have not been replaced. Funds that would have gone towards hiring new officers have been diverted to increasing the size of the management and administrative staff. At the time of writing, the administrative and management staff has seven full-time positions, while field and dispatch staff total seventeen full- and part-time positions.

The burden of these changes has fallen squarely on the shoulders the CSOs, resulting in officers working twelve- and fourteen-hour-shifts; compromising CSOs alertness. CSOs are being forced to work unwanted overtime—during previously approved days off—and being sent to confront potentially dangerous situations alone. These concerns have been routinely ignored when raised with management and Human Resources. When officers asked managers how to respond to medical emergencies with only one officer, they were instructed to flag down passing students and request that they temporarily perform Community Safety functions.

In addition to staffing issues, CSOs have observed a consistent pattern of managerial disrespect, both for our safety and dignity. Officers are routinely instructed to utilize unsafe equipment. Managers treat concerns raised by CSOs with contemptuous and demeaning language.  Suggestions for workplace improvement, even solicited ones, are treated as threats to authority.

On Thursday, January 17, a delegation of Community Safety Officers delivered a letter to the college administration informing them of their intent to unionize, and politely requesting that the college agree to a fair process to recognize and respect their union. This represented the culmination of a year-long process of labor organizing within the department. So far, management has failed to agree to a fair process to recognize our union. We hope that the Reed College community will come together to support our call for a meaningful voice in our working lives.

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