Community Safety Officer tells Quest “We want a safer Reed”
In January of 2019, the Community Safety Officers unanimously delivered a letter to Reed College asking the institution to commit to a fair unionization process with the help of the local 49 Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The Community Safety Officers Union Organizing Committee feel that the changes the administration and leadership have made, like “[eliminating] the entire budget of on-call officers who would be the personnel to cover absences due to illness, vacation, and turnover [and instead] adding another manager position and an administrative coordinator position,” have been made “without any forethought or planning. CSO’s don’t believe that a management team that would make staffing decisions such as this, without solutions to inevitable staffing shortages, can be trusted to make future decision while keeping the students best interests in mind, let alone the CSOs’. This is why CSOs feel we need a union. The need for some type of oversight is too great to not fight for, and we feel the SEIU is the right union to do that.”
The Quest sat down with a current CSO for more insight on the unionization process.
After the letter was delivered, the “administration reacted to our letter not quite with silence but with lots of stalling tactics.” Members of the leadership of the CS department and the school administration seemed to acknowledge the letter existed, but neglected to take action.
The CSO said that “Reed wants to present itself as being a very liberal college and very supportive of unions and organizations. And the best way they can continue to not have to deal with the hard parts of unions, like having them, is to quietly wait for them to go away.”
Much of the contention between the CSOs and the administration has to do with what union the CSOs are petitioning to be a part of. “We can’t force the college to recognize us if we’re part of the SEIU, we could if we joined a police union. No one wants to be a police union. We don’t do what they do….I think most CSO think of themselves as first responders.”
Historically, unionization has protected employees and allows for agency through collective bargaining with employers and greater job security. At Reed, however, some are concerned that greater job security would make it difficult to fire CSOs who have behaved inappropriately. Importantly, a few CSOs have been accused of racially profiling students and inequitably enforcing the Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) policy. The CSO that spoke to the Quest responded that “this isn’t a union to protect us from getting fired. It’s a union to increase job satisfaction and workplace safety… There have been CSOs in the past, who stayed longer than they should have… and I feel like having a union would allow the CSOs to have more of a voice when there’s someone in their midst who they think is not okay for Reed.”
The CSO explained that it’s not job security, but “things like more training in mental health first aid and deescalation, clearer definitions of what our job is in certain ways, so that we can get the training we need for the things we do as CSOs… We’re asking that our gear is kept up to date so that it’s safe. We’re asking that we have more people in the field at all times so that the campus is kept safe. We’re asking that we get more training so that we can help students… We want student safety to come first.”
The Quest also reached out to Scott Cheesewright, an organizer with SEIU. The administration, alongside not reacting and thus stalling the union efforts, in January sent an email outlining Reed College’s policy that “forbid[s] union-related conversations during work, and disallow[s] community safety staff from having meetings with union organizers on campus.” In response to this, the CSOs filed an unfair labor practice charge against the College. The Trump Administration’s rewriting of labor law, however, makes it more difficult for the union to deal with this case. “The college seems to be taking advantage of the Trump Administration’s rewriting of the long-established precedent of existing labor laws.” Normally, an unfair labor practice charge such as this would be “pretty open and shut,” but that isn’t the case for this charge in this political climate. The administration refuses to discuss with CSOs about the unionization process until the legal proceedings are over.
Ultimately, the Community Safety Officer Union Organizing Committee is still hopeful for a resolution that keeps students’ best interests at heart. “CSOs feel neglected by leadership and that our voices fall on deaf ears… Unlike the common theme of union negotiations, we don’t want more money. We want better working conditions and we want a safer community for students, staff, and faculty. We want a safer Reed. In this area, Olde Reed was better off.”