More than a year after the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) union filed a petition on behalf of the Kenyon Student Worker Organizing Committee (K-SWOC) to hold a union certification election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the NLRB has set an estimated hearing date of May 8, 2023. Following this development, Kenyon Vice President and General Counsel Richard Lovering sent an email to student workers informing them that the NLRB has issued a subpoena requesting information about student work and approximately 1,850 student workers dating back to August 2019.
Getting a hearing date is the most recent victory for K-SWOC after a lengthy process of attempting to be recognized as a union. UE filed the original petition for election in October of 2021. Three days later, the College filed a motion to dismiss or stay the petition, contending that the necessary disclosure of student information under the NLRB Election Rules would risk violating the privacy rights of students under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Following the College’s motion, the NLRB indefinitely postponed the election hearing in order to consider the legal concerns raised by the College. Last April, it denied the College’s motion and ruled that a hearing and election could move forward without the College violating FERPA, acknowledging that a full hearing was required.
Acting President Jeff Bowman praised the NLRB’s thorough consideration of the College’s concerns outlined in its motion to dismiss or stay the petition for election. “The NLRB has never before adjudicated a petition for a union made up entirely of undergraduate student workers, and thus the UE’s petition raises important, unresolved legal questions,” he wrote in an email to the Collegian. “[The NLRB] acknowledged the legitimacy of those concerns, and thereafter the College worked with the NLRB and the UE to establish a process that protects students’ privacy rights in the context of NLRB proceedings. That the discussions have taken some time is a reflection of the uniqueness of the situation, how complex the issues are and how important it is that these issues are handled with care.”
In preparation for the hearing, the NLRB requested information about student work at Kenyon. The College informed student workers about the request in an email with the subject line “Action required by April 7 to object to the release of your personal information.” A copy of the communication was also sent to the students’ home addresses. The information requested is detailed in full in the subpoena and includes details like names, work locations, job classifications, work study status and graduation year from as far back as Oct. 18, 2021, the date of the petition’s original filing. The NLRB also requested documentation such as workers’ performance evaluations and communications with their supervisors from August 2019 to the present. According to the order denying the College’s motion to dismiss the petition, this information is needed in part to determine whether Kenyon’s student workers qualify as employees under section 2(3) of the National Labor Relations Act.
In accordance with FERPA, all student workers have the right to object to the release of the information contained in their records. Those that wish to can do so by emailing Nora McGinley, assistant to the regional director of the NLRB’s regional office in Cleveland, at Nora.McGinley@nlrb.gov. The College also compiled an FAQ on its website about the subpoena and hearing process for students seeking more information.
Henry Haley Goldman ’23, a member of K-SWOC’s Stewards Council, does not think that the release of the information that the NLRB requested is cause for worry. “I think the way the College communicated was potentially unproductive. The College made it seem like there is this big, scary government agency looking to get your information,” he said. “As far as the information being shared, it’s generally already available online. So it’s not something that I’m personally concerned about.”
Kyle Boozer ’25, a tutor at the Math and Science Skills Center who is not a member of K-SWOC, agreed. “I’m not too concerned since I can choose to opt out if I want to, but I recognize that other workers might see this differently,” he said.
According to Kenyon’s FAQ, the College and K-SWOC may ask the NLRB to subpoena witnesses to testify at the upcoming hearing. Haley Goldman said that K-SWOC will not force anyone to testify, emphasizing that the process would be completely voluntary. He said that this development will have a minimal impact on the union’s current plans. “We’ve been preparing for potentially this happening for a long time,” he said. “This probably should have happened a long time ago. It’s been delayed heavily by the National Labor Relations Board and by the College, so we’ve already strategized around helping people out before the election, rather than wait for the College or the labor board to allow us to.”