Members of the Kenyon Student Worker Organizing Committee (K-SWOC) held a day of action on Tuesday, and sent a number of emails to the Kenyon community this week voicing concerns regarding their hourly pay, as well as the College’s decision to eliminate the Farm’s residential program.
K-SWOC has been fighting for union recognition since August 2020. On Oct. 29, Region 8 of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) indefinitely postponed a hearing and other proceedings related to the election petition K-SWOC filed on Oct 18. This was in response to a motion filed by Kenyon on Oct. 21 to dismiss or stay K-SWOC’s petition. While awaiting official hearing and election dates, K-SWOC’s efforts have been focused mainly on raising student wages and supporting the Farm.
These shop-focused fights began to come to fruition at the end of the last semester. Student workers from the Writing Center requested on Dec. 23 that the Career Development Office (CDO) review their responsibilities as writing consultants and the appropriate wage tier for this position. On Jan. 25, the student workers received an email back from Writing Center Director Jeanne Griggs, and Associate Provost Sheryl Hemkin in which they communicated that, upon review, it was determined that their positions were categorized at the appropriate level, at Tier 2.
The writing consultants sent an all-student email on Tuesday that included an annotated version of the response they received from Griggs and Hemkin, questioning the legitimacy of their explanations regarding why their wages will remain at Tier 2. For example, Griggs and Hemkin wrote that following the Senate’s recommendation, the CDO will continue to examine pay tiers, to which the writing consultants provided an editorial suggestion. “More specificity needed in order to enhance clarity — what is meant by ‘examine’ and what is the purpose of that examination? Vague word choice bordering on meaningless, consider revising,” they wrote.
Modern Languages and Literatures Apprentice Teachers joined the Writing Center and sent an email on Wednesday requesting that their wages also be increased from Tier 2 to Tier 3, and that the Kenyon Language Program receive higher funding in order to do so. Addressed primarily to the CDO, these students referenced the high level of skill that is required for their positions — specifically, fluency or advanced proficiency in a targeted language — as a reason why they believe they deserve higher pay.
Gameday and Lowry Center workers also delivered a letter on Tuesday to Director of Athletics Jill McCartney, Associate Director of Athletics Justin Newell, Director of Athletic Communications Martin Fuller and the CDO also requesting a reevaluation of Kenyon’s tier pay system as it applies to their work and their compensation for it.
Student workers in Library and Information Services (LBIS), likewise delivered a letter to Vice President for LBIS Ron Griggs, Associate Vice President for LBIS Amy Badertscher and Dean of Career Development Lee Schott, demanding all LBIS student workers have their wages raised to Tier 3.
Many student workers question the effectiveness of the tier system as a whole. “We don’t believe anybody should be making $9.30 an hour to start with. But we also don’t think that the tier system reflects the work that people do,” said Zoë Packel ’22, an LBIS worker.
Among calls for better wages, many student workers have also been communicating their support for the Farm and student farmers. Gund Gallery Associates wrote in an email to the Kenyon community that they are frustrated by the decision to eliminate the residential program at the Farm and also by the fact that student farmers were not included in the decision-making process. “The farm wouldn’t exist without the labor of the farmers who live and work there, and the community they have built is rooted in the farmhouse and the residential program,” the associates wrote.
Student workers in the Office of Admissions expressed solidarity with the student farmers as well, citing the Farm’s relevance as a distinguished Kenyon experience that appeals to many prospective students. They also expressed disappointment that the administration failed to include them in the decision-making process and noted that although they often describe Kenyon as “student-run” and “community-driven,” they no longer feel that these phrases accurately reflect Kenyon. “Top-down arbitrary administrative decision making is antithetical to the vision of Kenyon we present, and leave us feeling we are being asked to deceive the people who will one day be where we are,” they wrote.
Many student workers from a variety of workplaces plan to go on strike in solidarity with the Farm. “I signed the strike authorization because student workers deserve a voice or say in their workplace conditions,” Wilkins said. “I’m going on strike as a Bookstore worker and admissions worker in solidarity with the Farm because I knew that they would do the same for us, if such unfair labor practices had been done against us.”