On Wednesday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) notified Kenyon College and the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) that it will deny Kenyon’s motion to dismiss or stay a union certification election and will require a full hearing to consider important legal questions raised by the Kenyon Student Worker Organizing Committee’s (K-SWOC) October 2021 election petition.
K-SWOC’s initial efforts towards a union election were delayed after the College filed a motion to dismiss or stay the petition on Oct. 21, arguing that the NLRB’s administrative election rules would require the College to disclose private educational records of students — violating Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects the privacy of student education records. The College also argued that many of its student positions operated in an educational context, and were therefore not essential to the College’s business operations.
Following the College’s motion to dismiss, the NLRB indefinitely postponed the hearing on Oct. 29, a decision made by NLRB Assistant Regional Iva Y. Choe. This decision was made in order to consider both Kenyon and K-SWOC’s positions regarding the relevance of FERPA in relation to NLRB law. K-SWOC argued that union recognition and violation of FERPA law are not inherently concurrent.
In the Office of Communication’s official statement about the NLRB hearing, the College said that they were “pleased” that the NLRB acknowledged the legal questions posed by the College, citing directly from the document. “The Employer raises several important points of consideration regarding the student-workers, including the nature of their work, work schedules, job tenure, remuneration and their relationship with the Employer,” Choe wrote in her Order Denying Employer’s Motion to Dismiss or Stay Petition.
However, the College did not include that Choe also attested there needed to be more concrete evidence presented in an official court setting. “I have simply concluded that these issues call for a full factual record, rather than the pre-hearing dismissal of the petition based on the Employer’s arguments that are not supported by record evidence,” she said.
Choe’s decision letter also addressed the College’s claims that union recognition would be a violation of FERPA and acknowledged that there was a possibility of procedural challenges, though she wrote that it was possible to achieve union recognition without violating FERPA. Ultimately, she found the College’s concern was not compelling enough to justify refusing union recognition-related negotiations with student workers.
The arguments made by the College have been interpreted by K-SWOC member Nick Becker ’22 as technicality arguments made to delay the election process.
“The whole time that we’ve been in this campaign this year, right after we filed for election, Kenyon has been hiding behind these legal arguments,” Becker said. “Kenyon was arguing the education department was going to completely deprive Kenyon of federal funding, which is absurd. That’s never happened before, that was never an issue. So the Board essentially just ruled that that was not an issue.”
The NLRB’s order also addressed the College’s turnover rate argument. Kenyon maintains that the rapid turnover of student workers each semester would result in a scenario where ballots cast by previous student workers would lead to changes that would affect more new student workers who had not voted for them.
The NLRB dismissed this argument by noting that it ignores the rights of workers who are currently employed by the College. In support of this dismissal, Becker also referenced the 2016 Columbia University decision, which ruled that high turnover regarding the part-time status or educational nature of some student jobs does not preclude employees working in those positions from their right to unionize.
Becker also emphasized that there is nothing preventing the College from attempting to reach a resolution with student workers before the scheduled hearing. The hearing itself is not imperative if the College decides on its own terms that its student workers should have the right to a fair election.
As student workers await the upcoming hearing, or a potential response from the College, those currently on strike will remain on the picket line indefinitely. The notice follows announcements made by the Kenyon farmers, Library and Information Services (LBIS) Helpline workers and Writing Consultants that they have joined the majorities of language Teaching Assistants (TAs) and Community Advisors (CAs) in their indefinite Unfair Labor Practice strike that began on April 11.
To demonstrate their solidarity with the student workers on strike, K-SWOC held a rally on the steps of Rosse Hall on Friday and a picket outside of Ransom Hall on Tuesday. K-SWOC has also set up a strike fund to cover the lost wages of striking student workers.
The large number of students on strike has led to many disruptions in everyday life at the College. Many students have been unable to attend their TA sessions, receive help from the library’s helpline desk or turn to their CAs when they need them. The College has yet to make any significant changes to address these newly imposed challenges, and “will continue normal operations without interruption,” according to an April 13 statement from the Office of Communications.
President Sean Decatur echoed this sentiment, although he did not give specifics regarding the College’s response.
“I appreciate the steps the professional staff and faculty have taken to ensure that students have access to the resources and support they need, whether it is designing special study sessions, accompanying CAs on duty rounds, or managing requests for technical assistance,” Decatur wrote in an email to the Collegian. “It is normal for us to make adjustments in how we deliver services, not just because of staffing or regulatory changes, like we experienced with COVID, but in a constant effort to improve our processes.”
K-SWOC’s rally on Friday outside of Rosse Hall gave a number of TAs, CAs and other striking student workers the opportunity to speak about their experiences in the workplace and their reasons for going on strike. Students also spoke to the challenges of striking — including regret that they have been unable to meet the needs of the students they typically serve — but ultimately reiterated the importance of the strike.
“I want to not have too many residents to know them all by name and face, because I don’t want to be a cop,” said CA Ilan Magnani ’24. “I don’t want to surveil my residents. I don’t want to have to prove to my boss that I’ve talked to them by uploading unimportant information about them into a spreadsheet. I don’t want residents to see me as someone whose primary function is to get them in trouble.”
Striking students also held a picket outside of Rosse Hall from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, during the College’s Honors Day ceremony. After the event, several picketing students approached Decatur to discuss the ongoing strike.
As student workers from these six workplaces continue their strike and K-SWOC awaits its hearing with the NLRB, students plan to continue to voice their concerns. K-SWOC will hold a picket outside of Ransom Hall at 5 p.m. tonight, and continues to accept donations to its strike fund.