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News : AFSCME Withdraws Petition for OU Call Center Union Election
Athens, OH, USA, Nov 9, 2015 -- A public employees union, citing an alleged "aggressive" campaign undertaken by "hired union busters," has withdrawn its petition for an election for student workers employed at Ohio University’s call center in Athens.
The university and Wilson-Bennett Technology – the subcontractor OU pays to manage the alumni fundraising call center – have denied hiring the alleged union busting group in question to speak with the call center’s roughly 60 student workers to persuade them not to join a union.
OU and Wilson-Bennett’s denial appears in conflict with an audio recording provided by two student workers on Oct. 28 that appears to show the two students in a meeting on Monday, Oct. 26, with two men who say they represent International Labor Relations (ILR). A representative of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Ohio Council 8 alleges ILR is a "union-busting" organization.
Will Klatt, organizer for AFSCME Ohio Council 8, provided a statement Friday (Nov. 6) noting AFSCME’s withdrawal from the election for the call center student workers (which would have happened on Nov. 15). The statement cites "conversations between Wilson-Bennett call center student workers and AFSCME Ohio Council 8" as the reason for the union’s withdrawal.
"The aggressive pressure campaign undertaken by hired union-busters has created a climate of fear and intimidation where a free and fair election cannot proceed," the statement reads. "We are confident student workers and their allies across campus will continue to organize for a voice on the job and to fight for an end to poverty-level student wages."
The statement also encourages members of the university community to "join student workers and their allies" during a protest rally this Thursday, Nov. 12, at 5 p.m. outside of Baker Center to "denounce the fact that President McDavis is enabling union-busting activities on Ohio University’s campus."
Klatt demanded on Oct. 28 that the university "unequivocally" announce that it opposes "union-busting, and coercion of student workers, and demand that all subcontracting by the university and its affiliated entities agree to union neutrality."
A report on the National Labor Relations Board’s website listed International Labor Relations as a group working with Wilson-Bennett in the union election process up until Friday, Oct. 30. The NLRB now lists a related organization working with Wilson-Bennett called "Sparta," based in Oklahoma. Documents found through the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s website list James Teague, CEO of International Labor Relations, as a principal of Sparta.
OU students, call-center employees and union organizers Ryan Powers and Collin Geddis previously told The NEWS that they were invited to a meeting with alleged ILR representatives on Oct. 26 while working (and earning pay) at the call center, which is housed in a university-owned office building on West Union Street.
"Are you guys hired by Wilson-Bennett or is there another company you work with?" one of the students asks in the recording after their supervisor introduces the two men.
"We work for International Labor Relations," a man identifying himself as Christian responds. "Your company hires our company, and then our company sent us out here."
ILR CEO Teague, for his part, on Oct. 28 denied claims that ILR was working with Wilson-Bennett and denied on Nov. 1 that either ILR or Sparta were working with the subcontractor to hold informational meetings with students. The university and Wilson-Bennett similarly denied that either had hired ILR on Oct. 28 and again on Oct. 30.
"I know we don’t have anybody there (in Athens)," Teague said on Nov. 1.
The university pays Wilson-Bennett for its management of the call center, an OU spokesperson has previously said. The majority of the student workers at the call center, which is called the "Bobcat Phonathon" and employs OU students to solicit donations from alumni, are reportedly paid minimum wage (Powers has acknowledged as much).
Klatt said in an Oct. 28 statement to The Athens NEWS that there has been "overwhelming support among student workers" at the call center to form a union.
"The right to bargain collectively should be respected by the administration and should be recognized as an expression of democratic citizenship for all students, faculty and staff," Klatt wrote. "The university administration and the Ohio University Foundation cannot hide behind the unethical behavior of its subcontractors. They have to take responsibility for the companies they pay to carry out functions of the university and its affiliated entities.
"This is about building a university where a living wage is something that is afforded to all employees of Ohio University, its affiliated entities and their contractors."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About Ohio University:
Ohio University is a prominent U.S. public research university located on a 1,850-acre (7.5 km2) campus in Athens, Ohio, United States.
About Wilson-Bennett Technology:
Wilson-Bennett Technology runs on-campus programs to help numerous colleges, universities, and non-profits gain more success in their annual fund.
Published: Tuesday, November 10, 2015