On Tuesday, members of Kenyon Student Workers Organizing Committee (K-SWOC) participated in a daylong Unfair Labor Practices strike, which was the first known work stoppage by undergraduate student workers in the history of the United States. According to its organizers, 130 student workers signed a list sent to the College committing to strike.
However, despite the large amount of support, President Sean Decatur said the strike would not influence the Board’s decision to recognize the union.
The strike comes three months after the Board of Trustees unanimously voted to deny K-SWOC’s request for recognition. Had the College recognized K-SWOC, the group would have become the first comprehensive undergraduate student union in the country.
Participants in the strike were mainly employees from five major workplaces — or “shops” — on campus: lifeguards as well as workers from Library and Information Services, the Kenyon Farm, the Wright Center and the greenhouse. The workers aimed to protest against the College’s unfair labor practices.
Before the official announcement, a majority of student workers in the five shops authorized a work stoppage, delivered in an open letter to administrators on March 11. K-SWOC members posted the letter on the door of Ransom Hall. “We sent [the College] the notice that we had voted to authorize the strike on Thursday, and we received absolutely no reach-out,” said Nick Becker ’22, a member of K-SWOC’s steering committee. According to Becker, K-SWOC and the student workers who voted to strike may have reevaluated their next steps had the College reached out to the group before Tuesday.
Faculty and maintenance staff, unionized with United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Local 712, joined the 130 striking workers at the picket line in solidarity.
The strike began at 7:45 a.m. outside of the library buildings, where student workers and supporters gathered together at the picket line. At 12 p.m., protesters began marching to the Lowry Center in order to advocate for student lifeguards, which lasted about an hour. Later in the day, at around 5 p.m., protesters gathered on the steps of Rosse Hall and on Peirce lawn, where they remained until midnight. Participants chanted, a band played live music and student workers delivered testimonials explaining why they decided to strike.
“I am striking not only to protect my own interests as a farmer but to advocate for the interests of my fellow workers, workers who are not granted the same freedom and self-direction that we are able to exercise at the Farm,” said Dante Kanter ’21, a Kenyon Farm worker and member of K-SWOC’s steering committee. “When one group of workers move to advocate for themselves, it is crucial that all other workers move as well. Nothing can be gained without solidarity.”
K-SWOC began its organizing efforts last spring and first officially requested recognition from the College in the fall after securing support from a majority of student workers. The unfair labor practices cited by K-SWOC include a lack of access to work study jobs, unilateral decision making, poor communication from managers and unexpected layoffs. Most recently, student workers have aired grievances about a lack of pay during the extended quiet period at the start of this semester.
“For many of us, the money we make from our Kenyon jobs is how we pay for textbooks, food, medicine, and essential items,” Dani Martinez ’21 wrote in her testimonial. “Losing two weeks of pay is unacceptable, and we deserve better from an administration which recently received a donation of $100 million.”
Mae Hunt ’21, Evey Weisblat ’21, Jackson Wald ’22, Adam Margolis ’22, Linnea Mumma ’22, Adam Samet ’22, Grant Holt ’22 and Andy Kelleher ’22 contributed reporting.