A Response to President Kington
Today President Kington sent out a Special Campus Memo addressing our ongoing unionization efforts. The memo is full of vague statements, and a few thinly-veiled threats. Notably absent is the recognition we have been fighting for: that student workers are employees and have the right to organize. The administration refuses to treat us as such; instead they advance an argument against unionization that is simply unsupported by the facts.
Two years ago, UGSDW was founded to represent student workers in the dining hall. Since then, we’ve won long-overdue wage increases, guaranteed breaks, mandatory food safety training, and equal pay for Grinnell High School students. The administration has opposed us at every turn. It’s been clear to us for a while that they sincerely regret not fighting our initial organizing drive harder. Now that we are trying to bring the power of our union to other jobs on campus, they are trying to keep us contained to Dining Services, like some kind of disease.
Unions are not a disease to be eradicated. Unions give a voice to those who wouldn’t otherwise be listened to. Unions bring workers together, organizing around shared experiences and shared situations to make transformative change.
The administration is trying to drive students apart. They are trying to put workers in boxes—a box for dining hall workers, a box for mentors and graders, a box for library workers. They use red herrings like “intrusion into the educational relationship.” They threaten our financial aid. Anything to keep student workers in their boxes.
But students don’t belong in boxes. Most student workers hold multiple jobs, often with wildly different work duties. Most student workers change jobs, sometimes semester-to-semester. What we do when we go to work matters less than where we come from. We’re all trying to make ends meet as tuition keeps rising. We all live on the same campus, get paid the same low wages, and face the same issues at work. This common background has allowed our union to effectively represent the hugely diverse workforce in the dining hall. There’s no reason we couldn’t represent workers all across campus. In fact, we are already doing just that—in the past few months, we have signed up hundreds of student workers from nearly every job on campus.
What President Kington conveniently failed to mention in his memo is that the decision to unionize is not left up to the administration. It’s up to us, as workers. UGSDW will not stop its efforts to give student workers a voice and to fight problems like understaffing, discrimination, and unfair pay. We refuse to be intimidated. We will continue to talk and to listen and to organize. We hope you will join us. It may be a long road to a union, but one thing’s for sure.
We’re stronger together.
In strength and solidarity,
Alec Doss, Quinn Ercolani, Sam Xu, & Cory McCartan
Read the original memo:
A group of Grinnell students have brought forward in a letter to me their recommendation that all work-study positions on campus should be unionized. Currently, the student dining service workers are part of the Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers. The College did not oppose the unionization of students in dining services and their decision to be represented by the union. Contrary to the suggestions in the letter, the College has and will continue to collaborate with union and nonunion members of the student body to provide a safe environment, maximize the value of the work-study experience, and treat workers with respect. Forming a union for the type of work in dining made sense because the work is not essentially bound to the educational mission of the College and is relatively homogenous in nature. Furthermore, dining service work can be filled by our students or other Grinnell community members. This is not so for many of the other types of work that students do at Grinnell.
Grinnell College takes a very different position when it comes to the remainder of the work-study opportunities on campus, which are very different from each other. That is, there are very few of the jobs that share a “community of interest” with other work-study positions. Thus, no single union could adequately represent the interests of those very disparate positions. If dozens of unions were formed to cover each of the groups of student positions that are related, it would be unduly burdensome and expensive to administer such a system. The resources spent doing so would necessarily be drawn from the mission of the College. This could have an adverse impact on our students who receive financial aid through the work-study program. And, given the need to reallocate budget to cover increased costs, other benefits to the student experience would be compromised.
There have been claims that Grinnell College does not view work-study participants as “employees.” While we recognize the income that students earn may play an important part in financing their education, students working at the College are not here primarily to earn a living. The College values the work performed by students; however, our view of these jobs is based upon the central and fundamentally educational relationship between students and Grinnell College. Therefore, it is the College’s position that work-study participants should not be considered employees for purposes of the National Labor Relations Act, and we oppose the intrusion of collective bargaining into the educational relationship.
Because we are Grinnellians, I expect these points will continue to be debated and discussed in many forums. Civil and inclusive discourse is one of the hallmarks of our academic community and one we embrace as we seriously and carefully research options and implications while considering this matter.