Not Wholly Union

St. John’s College workers’ organization efforts at an impasse

A move by St. John’s College workers to unionize remains in a suspended state following the school’s failure to meet deadlines required to challenge that petition.

Last December, 116 out of 170 students voted in favor of forming a union, but the school challenged that vote and filed its own petition—known as an RM petition—requesting the National Labor Relations Board hold an election on the issue.

The NLRB, however, dismissed that request on March 25 and says the college missed its 14-day deadline for such an election by 70 days. As such, the putative union remains in limbo until the NLRB makes a decision on charges of unfair labor practices that the St. John’s College student workers union filed against the college earlier this year.

Those unfair labor practice charges, filed on Jan. 31 and Feb. 23, allege the college refused to recognize the union; dominated and interfered with the union; and participated in concerted activities of retaliation, discharge and discipline against union members. If the NLRB substantiates the union’s claims, it would then issue the college a bargaining order and formally recognize the union. As of press time, the NLRB had not responded to SFR’s request for comment on a potential timeline for decision-making in the case.

The St. John’s College Student Workers Coalition first called for recognition on Dec. 14, 2023, which gave the college two weeks, by law, to either recognize the union and begin bargaining or challenge the union by calling for an election.

St. John’s College President Mark Roosevelt in turn asked for an extension until he was able to meet with the Board of Governors in February, who he said would have the authority to respond. The union agreed, under the condition that St. John’s College would not commit any union-busting activities in the interim.

Roosevelt previously confirmed to SFR he held a meeting with the Board of Governors in December without informing the union, and that he and other administration members asked SWC members to waive their rights to file unfair labor practices against the college—actions that resulted in the union filing a complaint against the college.

The college subsequently submitted its petition for a union election on March 13—90 days after student workers requested their union be recognized. Nine days later, members of the college’s senior leadership sent an email to students explaining their decision, writing: “For our own part, we believe that a fair election can take place. And we hope it can take place in a civil environment, free from accusation and finger-pointing. We are confident in the capacity of our student workers to vote on the basis of their own reasoned opinions and the substance of the current matter. We also want to reconfirm our commitment to ensuring that our college campus is a safe environment for everyone, where every voice is valued and encouraged to speak freely.”

Upon dismissing the petition for an election, NLRB Regional Director Cornele A. Overstreet said he found further proceedings “unwarranted” due to the college failing to meet its 14-day deadline when responding to the union, citing an August 2023 NLRB ruling that created this deadline.

Roosevelt declined an interview with SFR on the election request, but St. John’s College Senior Director of Communications and Operations Sara Luell provided a statement confirming the college’s newfound support for an election. In a previous interview with SFR, Roosevelt said such an election would be “a scarring event for a campus, that it leaves so many wounds, so many injuries, so much pain.”

Zane Kelly, a member of the St. John’s College SWC, says the union opposes an election at this point because of the administration’s response to the union’s request for recognition, including the allegations in the unfair labor practices the union filed against the college.

“We asked for some sort of action to be taken back in December. We would’ve loved to have a vote before they started union busting; it would have been wonderful for us,” Kelly says. “It seems very clear to me that the school has violated the rules the government has set down for labor practices.”

In the statement to SFR, Luell says the college hopes the SWC will reconsider their opposition to a union election and allow for a vote to take place.

“We were never approached in any kind of organized way about student workplace grievances until we were served papers declaring the student union’s intention to organize,” she says. “Once that happened, we entered a new legal landscape in which we could no longer ask what workplace issues they hoped to address nor make any offers of redress.”

St. John’s, Luell notes, “has always been a place of open inquiry and conversation, a place committed to valuing every voice, and a place that encourages all to speak freely; unfortunately, on these issues and more, supervisors are no longer permitted to speak openly without fear of legal reprisal and students can no longer expect their supervisors to answer many questions that they hope to gain additional insights into.”

However, Kelly feels that asking to hold a vote in violation of the NLRB’s two-week response rule “seems arbitrary and more like a delay tactic than anything else.”

“At this point, I feel that we, as students on campus, really just want to come to the bargaining table with the administration,” Kelly says. “There are votes that are going to be held, it’s just that they’re going to be votes about what kind of changes we want to make, who we want to represent us at the bargaining table.”

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.