UGSDW Files for Election, Paving the Way for Campus-wide Union
Legal Fight Expected; College Administration Weighs Strategy
GRINNELL, IOWA — The Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers (UGSDW) filed a petition on Monday with the federal National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a first step towards a union election which would allow UGSDW to represent all student workers at Grinnell College. If more than 50% of the votes at the election are for the union, it will be certified, and the college will be required to start bargaining over wages, benefits, and workplace conditions.
UGSDW has represented workers in Grinnell’s Dining Services since May 2016, but last September, the union began a historic campaign to extend its representation to the rest of campus. Over the last year, over 500 student workers have joined the union; to hold an election, UGSDW needed 30% of all student workers outside Dining Services to join. Union estimates peg the total number of such workers at around 1,000.
“The expansion of UGSDW is something that I’m very excited to be a part of,” said UGSDW President Quinn Ercolani, who is also the Treasurer of SGA. “The benefits we have the opportunity to bring to student workers all over our campus could make working for Grinnell a truly positive and beneficial experience.”
Once the NLRB processes the petition, an agent in Minneapolis will work with UGSDW and Grinnell to try to reach an agreement on the parameters of an election, including who will be allowed to vote. It is at this point that the union expects to run into trouble, says Sam Xu, an at-large member of UGSDW’s board.
“The college’s legal strategy is basically to rely on the pro-business, anti-worker labor board filled with Trump appointees to overturn established case law and rule in their favor.”
Xu cites President Kington’s Special Campus Memo last April as an example of their likely strategy. In the memo, the President wrote that “work-study participants should not be considered employees” for the purposes of unionization. While the President’s position stands in opposition to current case law, Xu worries that this will matter little. “They have an advantage in this area due to their superior legal and financial resources,” he says.
Still, Xu says he is optimistic. “So far, students have shown great enthusiasm in support of our organizing drive…. I am confident that Grinnell will respect its commitment to social justice and social responsibility.”
Other union members agree. “I am excited to be making history alongside my friends at UGSDW,” said Paige Oamek, a member of the union’s organizing committee and the union representative for Grinnell’s administrative departments. Nate Williams, the union rep for student government, added: “Students have power when we demand that our voices are heard. This is a movement, starting but not ending with labor.”