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Mills staff unite: A long time coming

Representatives of the union tabled outside of the Tea Shop to inform students about their priorities.

On Oct. 21, staff members at Mills College went public about their efforts to unionize. The group, touting the slogan “Mills Staff Unite!”, is represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1021. This union is dedicated to service workers and known on-campus for its nearly five year representation of the College’s adjunct professors. 

“I’ve worked here for three and a half years, I make $20 an hour, I have never had a raise—my job is below market value,” Corrina Burrell said, a member of the organizing committee who works as the library specialist for interlibrary loans and acquisition at Mills.

Their top priorities are getting pay increases and working with administration to address high rates of turnover and issues of overextention. To Mills staff, the bigger picture is a matter of creating a sustainable organization —a group that is fairly compensated and treated with respect. 

“Unionizing at Mills College brought with it not just raises and job security, but perhaps more importantly, recognition and respect from the College at large,” said David Buuck, an assistant adjunct professor of English who has been at the forefront of the Adjunct Faculty Union.

Members of the staff union organizing committee expressed their inspiration by the Adjunct Faculty Union at Mills, as well as other local colleges in the area such as California College of the Arts (CCA) and Saint Mary’s College, whose adjunct professors have also joined forces with SEIU. 

“Their experience with SEIU went really well and has resulted in well-made contracts, so we’re looking forward to their support and think that they’ll be a great partner,” Maddie Davis, annual fund manager and alumna of Mills, said.

It appears that unionization seems to be a trend among workers in higher education, particularly adjunct professors, in California and as far away as Florida and Pennsylvania.

“Collective action, generally, as we’ve seen broadly across the country and across the world, can make a big impact, and it’s more important than ever for people to band together and fight for what’s needed,” Burrell said.

Unionization has been a year coming: the staff has had a council during this time to discuss and prioritize issues faced by its members. Jayna Swartzman-Brosky is another member of the organizing team who works as the program director at the art museum on-campus.

She described the council’s mission as a way “to amplify the voices of staff on-campus to the administration and be a conduit for what staff needs are.” Swartzman-Brosky credits her union actions with her initial involvement in the council, which typically has involved discussion of the same issues the union will face: salary increases, issues with turnover, the feeling of overextension and benefits, among others.

“Unfortunately we haven’t had movement on these issues from our administration or President Hillman, so at this point we’ve decided to come together independently and seek outside representation,” Davis said.

Swartzman-Brosky explained that while the administration could take the suggestions of the council under advice, they have not been obligated to make any changes.

“If we’re unionized and come to an agreement with the administration, they’re legally obligated to pursue those agreements,” Swartzman-Brosky said.“So, it gives us leverage and accountability.”

In the end, the Mills staff stresses that a sustainable group will be one more able to fully support students. 

“That’s our top priority,” Burrell stated. “We all love Mills and we want to stay here, but we want this place to be sustainable over the long term, and we want to be able to be here over the long term, and have the institutional knowledge and the support structure so that we can proceed and make Mills yet more awesome.”

For more information and to remain up-to-date on Mills’ staff effort to unionize, follow them on social media at @millsstaffunite.