Expansion FAQ

Why are we expanding?

Workers deserve a voice. Without student workers, there would be no food, no library, no mentor sessions, no mail delivery. We do vital work for the college. Some students work 20 hours a week. We should have a say in how we work.

Grinnell has always valued self-governance. College president George Gates famously said that “It is 10,000 times better that young people should learn to govern themselves.” Despite this, self-governance is notably absent in the workplace. Wages and hours are set arbitrarily by the administration, and jobs can disappear without notice or discussion.

UGSDW can provide a voice to student workers. Together, we can advocate for our common goals in a way that has not been possible before. We have an opportunity to fundamentally rethink the relationship between student labor and the college. Let’s seize it.

The D in UGSDW stands for dining. Why doesn’t UGSDW change its name now that it seeks to represent students outside Dining Services?

We’re focused on giving student workers a voice. Changing our name would involve a lot of administrative headaches that would detract from this—buying a new website, re-filing taxes and many government documents, changing our bank account, editing hundreds of documents, and more. We’re also proud of our union being the first independent undergraduate union the the country, and don’t want to confuse people with a name change.

What has UGSDW achieved in the past? What can we hope to gain through a union?

By expanding UGSDW, we hope to give every student employee a voice in their own employment through collective bargaining. Collective bargaining allows us to come together, determine our priorities, and sit across the table from the administration to negotiate a contract about the terms and conditions of our work, including pay and disciplinary policies.

Through collective bargaining, student employees in Dining Services have negotiated base pay raises from $8.50 to $9.76 per hour, a bonus system that rewards experience, guaranteed rest breaks, food safety training, and a grievance procedure.

Read more about our goals for a new contract.

Langston Thomas, speaking at the announcement event for UGSDW's expansion campaign.

How do we get union representation and a contract?

Once 30% of student workers (not including those in Dining Services) join UGSDW, we can file for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). If the union wins a majority of votes in the election, Grinnell must start negotiating a contract with student workers right away.

We’ve challenged the Grinnell administration to sign a Neutrality and Card Check Agreement, which would force the college to remain neutral throughout the process, and to recognize the union once we’ve received the support of a majority of student workers. We believe it’s important to allow students to decide the question of union representation themselves, free from intimidation from the college administration.

Which workers will be represented?

Any student who works a job on campus or receives a paycheck from Grinnell College would be represented by UGSDW.

Can international students participate in the union?

Absolutely! Many of our members and several of our officers are international students. Joining a union has absolutely no impact on your immigration status or student visa.

Can one union contract accommodate so many different departments at Grinnell?

Definitely. There are no limits on what our contract can and can’t do (within the law, of course). Most of the union contract deals with things like grievance procedures, rights of employees and of the college, and things like dues deductions and notifications about changes to work rules. All of these things can and should be standardized across departments. Wages are relatively standardized and can easily be broken down at the department level. Last, additional rules or provisions that apply only to specific departments could be included should it become necessary.

Lazier Hall, Grinnell College

If the union wins more benefits for student employees, won’t Grinnell have to make more cuts elsewhere?

Not necessarily. The college has A LOT of money, and can largely choose to do whatever it wants with it. They also build flexibility into their budget for unexpected developments like recessions or minimum wage laws. Financial aid is central to Grinnell’s mission. The new admissions building? Maybe not as much. We certainly think that paying employees a fair wage should be a higher priority than some of the College’s current expenditures.

What are the rules governing how UGSDW is run?

While the union is administered and managed by the Executive Board elected annually by members, the Board has very few powers other than those explicitly granted to it by members. At the end of the day, members have complete control over the union and its decisions. Union meetings happen every month or so, and any member can make proposals and have them voted on. For more details, read our constitution.

What about dues?

We encourage our members to pay 2 dollars per month when classes are in session–That means fewer than 15 minutes of work. Dues fund snacks at our meetings, films we screen, union buttons, our website, and many more. And no money can be spent without our members’ approval! We do understand that paying dues may be too much for some members, so we have no mandatory dues. Whether you pay dues doesn’t impact your membership status in any way. You can learn how UGSDW raises and spends money this past year by reading our financial report.

Can I be fired for joining UGSDW?

It’s illegal for Grinnell to retaliate or discriminate against you in any way for union activity. There’s an entire government agency, the National Labor Relations Board, dedicated to protecting your right to have a say at work.

We don’t send the College a list of our members. Your name and signature will be reviewed and counted by a neutral third party or the NLRB.

I like my work. Why would I want a union?

Right now, the administration can change workplace policies at any time without consulting any student. In other words, without a contract, we have no security and no seat at the table when decisions affecting our lives and work are made by administrators. Just last year, the administration arbitrarily closed down two workplaces on campus, Bob’s Underground Cafe and Lyle’s Pub.

Besides, when some of us are happy with our working conditions, others may not be. Joining UGSDW enables you to support underprivileged student workers and give them a voice: with a union, we get to negotiate a contract that will protect the benefits we like and secure improvements in areas where we would like to see progress.

I like my supervisor. Wouldn’t joining UGSDW upset them?

Your supervisor wants a happy, productive workplace. They understand the stress that student employment puts on you. Many supervisors support higher wages (after all, they’re not paying for them out of pocket). Joining UGSDW isn’t a statement about your supervisor. It’s a statement about wanting a voice in discussions with the college administration.

I heard the administration say student workers are not employees. Why?

Grinnell has a student “employment” office; on-campus “employment” is part of many of our members’ financial aid packages; we are “employees” on Grinnell’s tax forms. But why, when we want to unionize, are we suddenly not employees?

Grinnell doesn’t want student workers to unionize. To stop us, they’re trying a controversial legal tactic—claiming we’re not employees, and so not covered by federal labor law. This would strip us of our right to organize for a better workplace, and their obligation to listen to us. The National Labor Relations Board ruled in 2016 that this very argument “deprived an entire category of workers of the protections” by federal labor law. Now the administration is hoping that Trump appointees on the labor board will side with them.

How is UGSDW different from SGA?

SGA can play a meaningful role in enhancing the workplace experience of student employees, but the college is under no obligation to accept SGA’s recommendations or requests. On the other hand, the administration has a legal obligation to bargain with us, represented by UGSDW, as equals over things like wages and workplace protections. In fact, SGA has passed a resolution in support of UGSDW this past semester.

Further questions?

Write to us! We’re happy to answer any questions you have about UGSDW and the expansion campaign.