The Grounds Crew, also known as the Canyon Crew, have partnered with Teamsters Local 305, a Portland Labor Union, to form Reed’s first Grounds Union. The vote was counted on January 26th. Four members of the crew of five voted to unionize. The fifth member was hired only recently, and so was ineligible to vote, rendering the decision unanimous. Union members sat down with the Quest to discuss their reasons for unionization.
The Grounds Union laid out their grievances in three main categories: compensation, security, and recognition. Wages, they say, are not competitive, and are significantly below nearby institutions for the same positions. The Crew hopes to use their union to negotiate better pay.
The Grounds Union is also worried about job security. They feel threatened by the college, and fear they will be replaced by contractors. Members reported multiple occasions where they felt that their superiors were actively considering hiring contractors to do the work that the Union felt was supposed to be their responsibility. The Union got few and vague answers when they questioned these actions.
The Union also feels that they get little recognition for the work that they do. The path for promotion is clouded with hand-waving and lip service, and many of the crew feel that promotion is all but a lost cause for them. They have been told repeatedly that their highly relevant education is of no importance to the jobs they do, and they do not even know what their job description is supposed to be. It took two members years to get a copy of anything that resembled a job description, but they were quickly told that the descriptions in question were outdated and invalid. The Union feels that they execute a diversity of tasks in their positions that are highly relevant to their respective educations, and are consistently given arbitrary reasons why they do not deserve to hold specialist roles rather than general technicians. Tasks that the Crew take pride in such as supervising student workers or designing and implementing canyon restoration are downplayed or outright ignored by the Crew’s supervisors.
Members of the Union discussed how they felt major differences between their lived experience in their jobs and what they have heard from their supervisors. The Union expressed frustration that job skill seemed to be independent of the potential for moving up, achieving better pay and more job security, and being recognized for the creativity they bring to their workplaces. The discussion dwelled on the arbitrary hierarchy they see above them.
One Union member pointed out the disconnect between the creative responsibility they felt they were hired to do and the order-following grunt work that they find themselves being pushed into. The member called this disconnect “gaslighting,” and explained how unionization seemed the only way to ensure that the Crew would be guaranteed to be heard by those above them.
“We are doing this because we love Reed,” one union member said, urging the student body to take a look at their beautiful surroundings. Reed’s landscape is a work of love born from the labor of a handful of dedicated people who have devoted their lives to the science and art of caring for and curating community ecology. The Grounds Crew, as well as much of the student body, faculty, staff, local community members, and local flora and fauna, are intimately connected to the Reed Canyon, regarding it not as something consumable but as a living, changing, breathing environment. Tired with the production-oriented rhetoric of some administration, one Union member said simply, “The Canyon is a process, not a product.”
The Grounds Crew see unionization as an opportunity to solidify their job descriptions and be recognized for all the work that they do. One member of the Union described his position fondly, explaining how he feels like a steward of the land and local ecology. His work centers around canyon restoration, but feels as if his supervisors dismiss the core of his work, as some refuse to admit that the canyon needs any more restoration. Despite being hired with a relevant degree in forestry management, he has been told that he does not actually use his education to do his job.
“Reasonable demands from reasonable people,” said one Union member. The Grounds crew repeatedly brought up Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as part of their grievances with the college. They feel that Reed is hypocritical on all three points when it comes to class. They curate Reed’s landscape with the intention to reflect these principles, working with the ecological processes of the land to promote species diversity and craft equitable and inclusive paths around campus. But they feel the weight of Reed’s hierarchies, and are forced to ask: when will the college honor its own mission statement?
The Quest reached out to Zackariah Perry and Steve Yeadon, who supervise the Grounds Crew. Both declined to comment, and instead the College issued a statement through the Executive Director of Public Affairs and Communications Sheena McFarland:
“Reed has a record of working successfully with unions; our custodians chose to unionize many years ago. The Grounds Technicians are a valued and important part of the Reed community. The college respects the right of the Grounds Technicians to organize and respects the union-organizing process. The college is following all guidance from the National Labor Relations Board.”
The Grounds Union asks the student body and alumni community to show solidarity with their efforts to achieve fair wages, job security, and recognition for their work outside of lip service. To the administration, they ask for democracy in the workplace: “Where is the equity?”
By Mud Bently