On Monday, 17 Community Advisors (CAs) began an indefinite Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) strike. As of Wednesday, that slim majority rose to 54%, bringing the total number of CAs on strike to 18. On the same day, 56% of Apprentice Teachers (ATs) joined the CAs in their strike efforts.
The strike follows stalled discussions between the College and the CAs over Kenyon’s late-January decision to switch the pay system for the CA position from hourly pay to a yearly $10,000 stipend, and is the latest escalation in K-SWOC’s two-year campaign to gain union recognition.
This most recent work stoppage is the second K-SWOC strike in recent weeks, following a one-day strike of over 200 students on March 3, the largest undergraduate worker strike in history, held to support the Kenyon farmers after the College’s decision to end the Farm’s signature residential program. On Tuesday, the Kenyon farmers sent an all-student email to the Kenyon community announcing their support for the CAs.
On April 11, K-SWOC issued a press release announcing the strike, saying that the CAs were protesting alleged retaliatory changes to the CA position made by the College earlier this year. On Sunday, just hours before the strike began, the CAs filed a ULP Charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region 08.
In Monday’s press release, K-SWOC and the CAs alleged that the switch from an hourly pay structure to a yearly stipend constituted retaliation against student workers for continued organizing. “Under these changes, the minimum wage and overtime regulations will no longer apply to CAs, nor will rights and protections related to collective organizing, including the right to unionize, under the NLRA [National Labor Relations Act],” K-SWOC wrote in its statement.
By ending the hourly wage system, CAs would no longer be considered statutory employees under the NLRA and would also no longer receive Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) protections, such as a guaranteed mandatory minimum wage, Title IX status or the right to organize.
Vice President for Student Affairs Celestino Limas disputed these allegations of retaliation. “As we have explained on many occasions, we did not make the change for this reason,” he wrote in an email to the Collegian. In a statement released on Wednesday, Kenyon said that the stipend model of payment was the standard for resident advisors across the country. Limas also noted that until 2015, the stipend model was practiced at Kenyon.
Limas also wrote that the College decided to switch the pay system as a way of enhancing the CA position. “CAs will receive a pay increase in moving from an hourly wage to a stipend,” the College’s statement read.
However, the CAs themselves do not see the change as an enhancement. April Murphy ’22, a CA, sent an all-student email on Monday in which she claimed the shift was implemented in order to change the legal status of the CAs under federal labor law, and that it was an open attack on labor rights.
“In February, after some of us asked the administration to clarify why it was changing our payment model from a wage system to a flat stipend, we were told by representatives of the college, including Vice President Limas, that they do not view CAs as employees under ‘applicable labor laws,’” she wrote in her email. “Specifically, we have been told we are not employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which protects employees from being paid below minimum wage and forced to work unusually long hours without overtime pay.”
Along with the CAs, the ATs believe that the College is engaging in unfair labor practices. A majority of the ATs have joined the strike. According to a K-SWOC tweet and statement posted on Wednesday, the ATs are striking both in support of the CAs’ ULP strike, and to ensure the College’s continued investment in the Kenyon Language Program and the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures (MLL). “Kenyon owes it to TAs, their professors, and students to recognize the value of these programs and negotiate on equal terms with those who have a direct stake in their continued quality,” another tweet read.
Emmie Mirus ’22, a Spanish AT, joined the strike as a way to call for higher levels of compensation for ATs work. “The TAs are joining the CAs in striking for several reasons,” she wrote in an email to the Collegian. “The first of these is that TAs, who are currently paid Tier II wages ($10.60/hour) deserve to be compensated at a rate that better reflects their skills and integral role in Kenyon’s language program — we deserve at least Tier III wages ($11.94/hour), although the tier model can and should be scrapped for a more fair system altogether.”
Additionally, Mirus explained that ATs are striking to protest the MLL department’s requirement that all aspiring ATs take the Second Language Acquisition and Teaching (MLL 100) course in order to qualify for the position, and for stronger job security.
K-SWOC member Zoë Packel ’22 said that the ATs are also protesting the College’s continued refusal to voluntarily recognize K-SWOC or enter into a stipulated election agreement with the aspiring union. She also said that the best way for the College to rectify the ULP would be to enter into an election agreement.
“Essentially, what Kenyon needs to do is to demonstrate that they don’t intend to infringe on CAs rights in this way. And again, there’s a really easy way for them to do that,” Packel said.
K-SWOC will hold a rally this Friday at 4 p.m. on the steps of Rosse Hall in support of the striking workers.