Goddard College union accuses administration of ignoring calls for campus mask mandate

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PLAINFIELD, Vt. – As Goddard College prepares to welcome students and staff back after 18 months of remote learning, an upcoming policy change has the school’s staff union filing unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board.

In planning the return to campus, college administration decided to follow state guidance when it comes to masking. For Goddard’s two other campuses, both located in Washington, that means masks are mandated. In Vermont, there hasn’t been a statewide mandate since June when the State of Emergency was lifted.

“We are tying local campus policies to a clear and objective standard because of how contentious an issue COVID-19 is,” said Goddard College President Dr. Dan Hocoy. “We have each campus abiding by local governmental directives, which are based on local conditions, which are based on science.”

Carl Etnier, Co-Chair of the Goddard College Staff Union, doesn’t agree with the strategy.

“When all the other colleges and universities in Vermont are keeping the mask mandate, I do not expect Goddard College to say ‘We’re just going to do what the state requires us to do and no more,” Etnier said.

Instead, the union wanted a mask mandate tied to CDC recommendations and community transmission in Washington County. Currently, transmission in the county is high, which means masks would be required.

“They broke off negotiations after that,” Etnier said. “They are legally obliged to negotiate in good faith with the union. They stopped doing that and simply announced they were going to put in place a policy that would get them to do the legal minimum to protect the health and safety of workers.”

Dr. Hocoy said staff members were given four to five weeks in order to prepare for students’ return, and when the union asked for two more, the administration agreed. On September 10, at the same meeting where the union requested masking based on CDC guidelines, they asked for an additional two weeks, which Etnier attributed to concerns over Alumni Weekend. It’s scheduled for early October, and the union felt that would be unsafe given the current transmission rates.

“At that point, we were at an impasse,” Dr. Hocoy said. “We felt like for the sake of our students, which we think are better served when staff are back on campus, we felt we needed to mandate that staff would come back.”

The latest update on the Goddard College website outlines Fall 2021 guidelines, which include recommending but not requiring vaccinations.

The Goddard College Staff Union is part of UAW Local 2322. Union Rep. Patrick Burke explained why the unfair labor practice charges were filed.

“The administration has a legal obligation to negotiate in good faith with the union,” Burke said. “We offered to meet any time with President Dan Hocoy to come to a mutually satisfactory agreement, even
offering to meet over this past weekend. He repeatedly turned us down. Refusing to bargain in
good faith like this is a textbook case of an unfair labor practice.”

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