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By Keith Burbank
Bay City News

OAKLAND (BCN) – Thirty to 40 staff, part-time faculty and students marched and rallied Wednesday afternoon at Mills College in Oakland to retain their jobs and seek a union contract as the merger with Northeastern University gets underway, a union member said.

Mills Hall, Mills College, Oakland, CA

The rally started shortly after noon with speakers on the Rothwell Center steps and ended at the front gates to the college, which after more than 100 years as a women-only institution will soon become home to men, too.

Financial troubles at Mills because of declining enrollment led to a recent agreement with Northeastern University, based in Boston. The merger is expected to be complete on June 30, 2022, and Mills College will then be known as Mills College at Northeastern University.
“Staff is cautiously optimistic about the merger,” union member Kate Beckwith said. Beckwith is also a Mills alumnus.

College officials have said recently that the merger will allow Mills to provide better pay to its employees. Before the merger was announced, staff were asking for a 10 percent across the board pay increase.

Beckwith said some employees have not had a cost-of-living increase in more than 10 years.  Around the time the merger was announced, the college announced a 3 percent pay increase, Beckwith said, but that has not materialized.

Union members also want Mills to provide workers with retention pay to stay on during the transition period. Beckwith thinks workers should be incentivized and rewarded for staying on.

“People really care,” she said, referring to how Mills employees feel about Mills students.

She said workers are extremely dedicated to the students.

It would behoove Northeastern to retain as many experienced Mills College employees as possible to avoid losing that institutional knowledge, she said.
Beckwith was also optimistic Wednesday about the college recognizing the union, even though the process has been fraught with challenges.

The college administration has stonewalled the union, been uncooperative at the bargaining table, and treated non-tenured faculty and staff poorly, she said.
The union, which formed in March 2020 and represents about 100 employees, has been unable so far to reach a contract agreement with the college.
College administrators were unable Wednesday evening to offer a comment about the rally.

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