In Oct. 2019, the Mills staff announced their campaign to unionize with a local SEIU (Service Employees International Union) chapter. The SEIU already represents Mills faculty as well as staff at California College of the Arts (CCA). Through a letter, the Mills union organizing committee urged President Beth Hillman to voluntarily recognize the union, the alternative being involving the National Labor Relations Board and forcing Mills to facilitate a union election. However, that is a complicated, lengthy process that no one is eager to undertake.
So far, the Mills administration has been slow to respond to the union committee’s request for an election. In a statement to KQED, President Hillman said: “When it comes to labor unions, Mills embraces the democratic principle of free and fair decision-making by employees. … We’re now assessing how the possibility of unionization would affect our efforts to work together with our faculty and the entire community to ensure a sustainable future for Mills.”
The union organizing committee filed its request in Nov. 2019; as of the writing of this article, it is Feb. 2020, and it seems the Mills administration is still assessing.
Among complaints aired out at Wednesday, Feb. 12th’s union meeting, audio director at the Center for Contemporary Music & Mills Performing Arts, Brendon Glasson said that some staff members haven’t gotten a raise in nearly a decade. Mill staff are being crushed under the weight of stagnant wages. As staff members have been left or been laid off, current staff members have suffered added responsibilities without proportionate pay. These working conditions contribute to frequent staff turnover. They could also spell trouble for students. “As a longtime employee, I’m watching Mills become a place where people work for 2-5 years and then leave, and that’s not particularly sustainable for us or our students,” said Health-Sciences Coordinator Vala Burnett.
Having declined to voluntarily recognize the Mills union, and all parties reluctant to involve the National Labor Relations Board, the Mills administration has agreed to hold a union election among Mills staff but has so far been stalling by refusing to set a date. Wednesday’s union meeting also saw talk of fear among staff members around voting in the union election, for fear of the effect on their jobs. Mills staff live in the shadow of massive 2017 layoffs as part of the initiative to balance the school’s budget. The Mills union committee hopes having a union will increase the staff’s bargaining power and help mitigate the effects of any future layoffs or budget cuts on hardworking staff.
CORRECTIONS: Brendan Glasson’s full title is the audio director at the Center for Contemporary Music & Mills Performing Arts.
Some staff members have not received a raise in nearly a decade.
Mills does contribute to the retirement benefits of full-time staff.