On Nov. 12, members of the Kenyon Student Worker Organizing Committee (K-SWOC) steering committee met with members of senior staff and the Board of Trustees to further discuss their request for recognition as a union. Members of K-SWOC described the meeting as anticlimactic.
“We went into this meeting trying to establish a dialogue. However, we were stonewalled multiple times,” said Graham Ball ’21, a member of K-SWOC’s steering committee.
The closed meeting, which was called in order for K-SWOC members to present more information about the group’s goals, comes after months of organizing and campaigning from the group. K-SWOC submitted their first formal petition for recognition at the end of August and a second at the beginning of September. They subsequently met with the Board of Trustees’ ad hoc special committee on Sept. 23, during which K-SWOC steering committe members explained their request for recognition.
K-SWOC has received majority support from student workers, and, if the College approves their request for a card-check neutrality agreement, they could begin contract negotiations as soon as the beginning of next year.
The Nov. 12 meeting took place nearly a month before the end of the semester, when the Board of Trustees says it will release their final decision on whether to recognize the group as a union. If the College formally recognizes K-SWOC, it will become the first comprehensive, undergraduate union in the country.
Members of K-SWOC expected the Nov. 12 meeting to be a dialogue between them and the ad hoc committee where they could negotiate as equal parties. Instead, the Board of Trustees simply asked K-SWOC members to provide them with information about the union, a format which, to K-SWOC members, felt counterproductive.
“They only wanted to hear more information from us and it had been months since we last met,” said Nick Becker ’22, a member of K-SWOC’s steering committee.
Brackett Denniston, Board chair and member of the special committee, has not yet responded to the Collegian’s request for comment on the Nov. 12 meeting. However, he noted in an email to the Collegian last week that “K-SWOC students asked for another opportunity to present information to the committee, and we agreed to meet and listen.”
In addition to the ad hoc committee, President Sean Decatur has charged Campus Senate with reviewing student employment policies. K-SWOC members have claimed that the legislative body had been soliciting grievances from employees with the promise of future benefits, which is prohibited by the National Labor Relations Act. Decatur has denied these claims, stating that the Senate does not have the authority to make such decisions. Nevertheless, the Collegian acquired contract negotiations from this summer that suggested Decatur was aware of efforts to create a student union when he ordered the Senate review.
In addition, a recent email to Decatur, K-SWOC said that student employee supervisors and senior staff members have told workers that they will not respond to demands until the Campus Senate has completed its investigation into student employment policies. As part of their employment review, the Senate sent out a survey last week to student workers asking what student employees were seeking from their employers and if employment expectations have been met.
This sequence of events has raised questions regarding the College’s transparency on its efforts to review student employment procedures. K-SWOC members have expressed concerns about the Board committee’s operations. When the K-SWOC members asked for more information about the ad hoc committee’s research during the Nov. 12 meeting, they were met with opposition.
“I asked twice about the research that has been conducted thus far, not even what the results of their research was,” said Alasia Destine-DeFreece ’21, another K-SWOC steering committee member. “We explained that it was really difficult for us to give them any new information when they haven’t given us anything. And unfortunately, that was seen as trying to debate, when in reality we were trying to understand what page everyone was on.”
In the same email to the Collegian from last week, Denniston explained that the College formed the ad hoc committee in order to review the ways that Kenyon provides financial support for its students before making a final decision on union recognition. He did not elaborate on the specifics of what that entailed, but noted that the committee had collected input from various sources.
After asking the ad hoc committee for an update or an opinion on their decision, K-SWOC members said they were met with silence. “[The ad hoc committee] said they’ve been collecting information, but they haven’t made an opinion yet,” Becker noted.
The status of work-study employees has also raised concerns among students in light of the ongoing pandemic. K-SWOC has submitted a petition to Decatur demanding that the work-study employees retain employment in the event that the spring semester is moved online. Decatur has yet to respond to the petition, which has racked up 200 signatures.
For now, the K-SWOC members are awaiting the ad hoc committee’s final decision, which the Board of Trustees will vote on. K-SWOC hopes that, by the end of the semester, their request for a card-check agreement will be approved and that they will be able to become a recognized union.