UGSDW Opening Statement

UGSDW Opening Statement, Delivered in Bargaining on October 6, 2022

Hello everyone and welcome to the very first session of bargaining between the Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers and Grinnell College. This is a historic moment — We are here today to begin the process of negotiating the first undergraduate campus-wide contract in history that will shape student work at Grinnell College for years to come. It is wonderful to see so many faces in the crowd; it’s clear student workers, students, faculty, staff and community members are here today because they are invested in this process and value work at Grinnell. So, let’s begin.

Today’s negotiations are the culmination of years of student worker organizing at Grinnell. Let’s be crystal clear — the College would not be here today negotiating with us if we had not demonstrated our collective power, taken action as workers, and fought for the change we need. Since 2017, the College actively opposed efforts by UGSDW to expand to all student workers on campus. It wasn’t until last year that the College finally agreed to remain neutral during an expansion election. At that time student workers across campus identified with the sentiment that student work at Grinnell is deeply flawed, exploitative, and in need of systemic change. In one of the largest margins of victory in the 21st century, student workers voted 327-6 to unionize in April of 2022. Our historic election results are a mandate from student workers to the College, saying “We know what is best for our work and we are ready to use our voice at the bargaining table to get the changes we need.” We are not alone. We are part of a larger movement of workers across the country who are putting their foot down, saying enough is enough, and demanding more say over the way in which we work. For far too long the College - namely Trustees and the administration - have had full reign to make decisions about work at Grinnell. The result has been the entrenchment of underpaid and undervalued labor, chronic understaffing, and a wide range of workplace issues that consistently fail to be addressed. We have won the power to change these conditions and fight for better, and are eager to get started with that work. Our vision is that we can move through this process in constant dialogue between equals at the bargaining table, and in a cooperative and mutually productive way to meet the needs of student workers. Our ultimate goal is to improve the lives of student workers at Grinnell to make the College a better place for everyone.

We want to make it clear that Grinnell works because we do. We being the workers of Grinnell College. You all have seen the buttons community members are wearing today, standing in solidarity, saying that without our labor, there would be no Grinnell College. This includes not just student workers, but all workers on this campus. It’s important for us to note that wrapped up in the exploitation of workers are issues of racism, patriarchy, classism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia, all of which conflict with Grinnell’s initiatives to be a leading social justice driven institution. Dismantling these exploitative practices doesn’t start or end with negotiating a contract for student workers. We challenge the College and its bargaining team, as representatives of the College, to make good on this initiative when it requires a substantial reevaluation of the money and power the College holds.

We come here today on behalf of student workers, as student workers. Look around you — the vast majority of our campus community is wearing a “Fair Contract Now!” button in support of our bargaining priorities. Our first priority is substantially raising the wages for all student workers on campus. Grinnell College is one of the wealthiest institutions in the country with $3.4 billion in assets, yet somehow it only pays student workers 8, 9, 10 dollars an hour. Last year Grinnell College paid $1,926,757 in student wages. It may sound like a lot, but really it equals out to 0.06% of Grinnell’s total assets. Student workers know that isn’t enough. We surveyed our members and found that 87% worry about affording the cost of attending Grinnell, 69% use their wages to pay for groceries, and 56% use wages to pay for school materials. Our three priorities come directly from conversations with student workers and have been approved by our membership. First, we are working toward higher wages across campus and an end to current pay tiers. Student workers deserve to afford to be students. To eat. To pay rent.

Our next priority is job security. This is an issue UGSDW has addressed time and time again in the six years of our union’s existence. Under current College policy, student workers outside Dining Services can be fired without warning and for any reason. Without protections, the wages we earn from the College can drop from little to nothing. That’s why our first official proposal today to be presented to the College is a system of just cause employment. Winning just cause in the Dining Hall has resulted in over a hundred and fifty unjustly terminated student workers being reinstated in their positions. Establishing just cause for every other job will be key to building a consistent, fair, and secure environment where all can work for what they need.

We also plan to fight to make Grinnell College a sanctuary campus where ICE, DHS, and the Grinnell Police Department are restricted from entering workplaces without a warrant. It’s essential that we have protections in place for our most vulnerable workers, specifically international and BIPOC student workers.

Our final priority is creating a system for recourse against workplace discrimination and harrassment. Student workers deserve to feel safe and protected in the workplace. As student workers whose financial aid is contingent on our work, we deserve to feel respected and safe within the workplace. Many student-workers have faced and still face discrimination, harassment, and unsafe and uncomfortable working conditions. Given the flaws of the current arbitration and grievance handling process, we are fighting for a new system that ensures fair arbitration and a neutral process that offers real recourse for student workers.

All of us are fully committed to this process. It’s exciting to finally be here, sitting at the table with the College ready to talk concretely about substantially changing and improving student work at Grinnell for years to come. We thank everyone in attendance for being here in any capacity, and believing that a strong contract is a necessity for workers on this campus to feel safe, respected, and represented.

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