Section: News

Over 200 student workers participate in one-day ULP strike

On March 3, over 200 student workers went on strike in one of the largest student-worker strikes to happen on a college campus. The strike followed the College’s decision to discontinue the student residency program at the Kenyon Farm, which the Kenyon Student Worker Organizing Committee (K-SWOC) asserted was an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP).

Molly Orr ’24, a student farmer who participated in the strike, said that the strike demonstrated the solidarity between student workers. “The support that over 200 student workers demonstrated for the Farm by striking with us was really meaningful,” she said.

This strike comes during K-SWOC’s nearly two-year-long fight for union recognition. In March of last year, approximately 126 student workers went on strike for one day, which was then followed by a two-week strike in April, when approximately 170 student workers left their workplace and demanded union recognition.

The most recent strike was spurred by the College’s January decision to end the student residential program at the Kenyon Farm, which had been one of the only collegiate residential farm programs in the country for 10 years. The College clarified that this change would not include a reduction in the number of positions or work hours available to students. Many student farmers, however, felt blindsided by the decision and shortly after voted unanimously to authorize an ULP strike in protest.

Striking students included workers from multiple campus departments, including a majority of Community Advisors, Apprentice Teachers, Library and Information Services workers, Horn Gallery employees and Wright Center workers. Striking students formed a day-long picket line in front of Chalmers Library, and gathered for a rally outside of Rosse Hall where student workers and farmers gave testimonials.

The College issued a press release the day of the strike to reiterate that no students would be penalized for participating.

“While some student workers may be engaging in a strike, the College’s goal remains to ensure that all students, including striking students, continue to receive an excellent education and enjoy the many resources Kenyon provides its students, without retaliation or discrimination,” the College said in their press release.

In a post-strike all-student email, K-SWOC highlighted how multiple other colleges and universities responded to similar undergraduate organization efforts with voluntary recognition or an election agreement. Specifically, K-SWOC referenced how Hamilton College signed a stipulated election agreement the previous fall allowing their student admissions workers to unionize. They also referenced how Grinnell College signed a neutrality agreement with the Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers (UGDSW), allowing an election for UGDSW to represent almost all Grinnell undergraduate workers.

K-SWOC justified the strike by denouncing the College’s continued resistance to unionization efforts on campus.

“[Strikes] only occur when the employer refuses to work with their employees as equals to reach compromises that meet the interests of both parties involved,” they wrote in their email. They further commented that Kenyon remained one of the only institution that refuses to recognize a budding student union.

K-SWOC concluded their post-strike reflections by stating “three fundamental truths” revealed by the March 3 strike. They affirmed the continued presence of K-SWOC on the College campus, noted the feelings of solidarity among student workers provoked by the decision to end the Farm’s residency program and stated the possibility of future strikes.

“We will not, however, back down from our commitment to the principles of workplace democracy in which all student workers have a say that cannot be ignored in the conditions of their employment,” K-SWOC wrote in their email. “Top-down decision making that ignores the concerns, needs, and ideas of student workers, and any worker on campus, and negatively affects workers is something we cannot accept.”

On Monday, March 28, the Kenyon farmers sent a community email requesting that the College extend the Farm residency program into the 2022-23 academic year to allow for a committee of students, faculty and administrators to deliberate and arrive at a mutually agreeable decision.

“As we approach Kenyon’s bicentennial, we want to see the Farm well embarked on a successful and sustainable future, an educational program that achieves its full potential to enrich the lives of students,” the farmers wrote in their email. According to Orr, the farmers have not yet heard back from the administration regarding their proposal.

Orr said this represents a pattern of the farmers, and other student workers, being ignored and disrespected by the administration. “[This] underscores for us that the only way that the Farm can be protected, that we can protect the thing that we love, is to have a union. And we’ll do whatever we need to do to make that happen,” she said.


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