In the 1920s and 30s, working conditions at Wellesley College were becoming intolerable. Most service employees lived in the basements of dormitories, worked split shifts (from morning to night with a few hours off during the afternoon), and were subject to arbitrary firings by house mothers in charge of individual dorms.
In 1941, workers decided to organize themselves to fight this unfair treatment. Fred Pillion and John Daily, both from Cochituate, were the leaders of this movement. In 1942, the union was overwhelmingly approved in an election at Schneider Center, despite the intimidating presence of Mr. Hodge, the college business manager, who stood outside the polls at Schneider. After the union was voted into existence, four hundred Wellesley service workers became part of the Building and Maintenance division of Local 254 of the AF of L/CIO. Ed Sullivan, the business agent for Local 254, had helped in organizing Wellesley's workers by collecting the signatures of 30% of the workers in favor of a union and filing with the labor relations board for the election.
It did not take long for Wellesley's service workers to realize they had no voice with the union in Boston; in fact, they had no representatives on the executive board of the union. The only connection of Wellesley to the union was a secretary who collected union dues and reported to Boston what was happening at Wellesley.
Wellesley workers wanted a union steward to better represent their interests with the larger union body. In 1945, workers took nine buses to Boston to push for Fred Pillion and John Daly to be on the Local 254 executive board. While in Boston, the Wellesley employees discovered that the union in Boston was stamping Wellesley union dues as a day late so no one at Wellesley was considered a member in good standing, which meant that Wellesley could not be represented or have a vote. From this point on, Wellesley union employees started looking for a way out of Local 254.
Although it was rare for a union to become independent, in 1946, Wellesley's union employees seceded from the AF of L/CIO. Local 254 was shocked at its loss of 400 workers, which entailed a considerable amount of their membership and dues income. Paul White, a member of the Lithographer's union and a Boston Globe employee, helped the union become independent. Most of the officers of Wellesley's now independent union came from the Maintenance Department (Service Building). Early officers included Felix McGuiness- grounds, Loy Lutton- steam shop, and Paul Jones- electrician.
Conducting Union Business
In 1947, Paul Jones argued the first union grievance. Judge Caplan, a trustee of the College had been chosen as an arbitrator by the union. The case involved what the union considered an unfair hiring; a custodian in the Chapel, who had only been at Wellesley for about three months, was promoted over those with more years at the college. The union lost the case with the arbitrator, who said the college can hire whoever they want for management. In 1953
Fred Pillion, a small, quiet man, resigned as business agent and was succeeded by John Daly, a very assertive former semi-pro football player. John was very intimidating to Donald Height, the business manager of the College. John remained business agent until 1958. Lloyd Lutton then took over the position until 1966. Joe Sims then became BA by winning the 1966 election. John Miller became BA in 1970 until he had a stroke and Joe Sims took over again. Leslie Pano became business agent in 1982 and continued until 2006. Phil Grupposo, Paul Clain and now Danny Morrison have served as business agent in recent years.
The 60s and 70s
The mid 1960's were difficult years for the union. Custodians were making $1.62/hour and were only offered a $0.02/hour raise. Joe Sims presented College President Ruth Adams with seventeen pages of grievances as soon as she took office. To her credit, Adams handled the grievances well and maintained good communication with the union executive board. In 1973, students successfully protested against union women custodians being paid on a lower wage scale than male custodians.
In the mid 1970s, union workers in food service were being replaced by students. Union membership dropped from 310 to 240. In 1974, there were twenty two union grounds employees, now there are half that. Claflin and Schafer kitchens shut down, which further cut union numbers. Employees who had been living in the basement of Stone-Davis were moved to Dower, Lake House, and Gray House in order to make room for more students. Union employees continued to be shuffled around in housing through the late 1970s into the early 1990s. The remaining buildings that housed union employees were Gray house and 41 Service Drive. The last union employee in college housing left a college apartment upon retiring in 2009.
In the past, there was a system for union members to move up to better positions, but the gradual disappearance of the trade's helper position ended upward mobility. Recently, the union attempted to revive a trades helper program to help advance lower-paid employees in food service and custodial into learning a skilled trade, and eventually a higher paid position. A small scale revival of the program in the late 1990s was only semi-successful. Currently, there are no trades helpers.
The closing of Munger Kitchen in 2001 and the loss of those positions was difficult for the union, though employees were placed in other kitchens resulting in no lay-offs. Schneider Center kitchen closed in 2005 with the opening of the Wang Campus Center. The union and the college negotiated how to best accommodate the displaced Schneider workers, but there remains some dissatisfaction among workers with how the disappearance of the Schneider jobs was handled. On the positive side, however, the opening of the Wang Center has led to the creation of many additional union jobs.
The seniority principle was tested in an arbitration case in 2002 over the awarding of the Head of Grounds position to a candidate with 2-years seniority over a candidate with 14 years. The union lost the case, and wariness of managers awarding positions to favored workers continues to be an issue. Another problem is the use of lower-paid casual wage employees and students to fill union positions.
Layoffs,the closings of Cazenove and Beebe kitchens and the reorganization of the trade shops have made for a painful 4 years for the union from 2008-2012.
This history has documented some of the battles and setbacks the IMSEUA has experienced. The history of most labor unions is generally one of overcoming adversity, yet overall the IMSEUA is very proud of being unique to Wellesley College and considers the relationship to be very successful. Today, the union numbers about 275 members. We look forward to continued good-faith bargaining with Wellesley College in the years to come.
*Credit goes to Joe Simms for relating most of this history - Thank you Joe!