Section: News

NLRB begins union certification hearing after prior delays

NLRB begins union certification hearing after prior delays

COURTESY OF THE KENYON STUDENT WORKERS ORGANIZING COMMITTEE

On Oct. 30, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) hearing regarding the legal existence of Kenyon Student Workers Organizing Committee/United Electric (K-SWOC) as a union of only undergraduate students began. The hearing had been delayed since October 2021, when the administration hired the Jones Day Law firm to represent its interests in the NLRB’s proceedings. 

Jones Day has represented the administration in arguing that K-SWOC cannot be considered a standard union. Because the information-gathering necessary for NLRB certification would violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a union composed of undergraduate students would not qualify as workers. The NLRB has not previously recognized a fully undergraduate union. On its website, K-SWOC challenged these claims. “Kenyon’s repeated attempts to delay an election through baseless claims and blatant distractions are disrespectful to the entire community as a waste of time and resources,” one section reads. Though the FERPA arguments have been dismissed, this hearing is meant to conclusively determine whether undergraduate workers can organize under federal law. 

On Oct. 19, Kenyon released an update on the NLRB hearing, stating that it had filed a claim calling for a revote among student-workers at Kenyon. The administration clarified that in the two years since K-SWOC originally petitioned for union recognition, a majority of the initial membership have graduated. As a minimum of thirty percent of student-workers must agree to form a union, Kenyon College requested confirmation “that there is sufficient interest among Kenyon’s undergraduate student-workers in being represented by the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE)” via their institutional news page. The administration further clarified that in the two years since K-SWOC initially petitioned for recognition, a majority of the initial membership and organizers have graduated. 

Tiana Pham ’24, one  K-SWOC organizer, disagreed with the College’s concerns. “The NLRB Hearing Officer dismissed that particular argument on the first day of the hearing,” she wrote in an email to the Collegian. “A commanding majority of student-workers signed union cards when an election was filed for and the NLRB region sees no reason to reject the showing of interest.”

Thus far, the hearing has mainly consisted of witness testimony from students on the responsibilities of student-workers, the benefits received and how their job contributes to the college. Pham said, “[Jones Day] has been calling up witnesses since the beginning of the hearing and plans to call at least 100 witnesses in total.” For this reason, the administration has estimated that the hearing will be taking place over a few weeks.

Despite losing members to graduation, Pham believes that K-SWOC is still relevant for all student-workers in 2023: “I’m confident that student-workers — like any worker — want a fair say in their work conditions. K-SWOC was founded on this idea. The original organizers and supporters may have graduated, but this is still a principle the current organizers and supporters stand by.” 

Pham believes that the view that K-SWOC is dissolving due to the initial membership graduating is faulty, and that instead the group is in a transition period: “Those of us who remain are using this as an opportunity to redefine what K-SWOC is. This new generation of organizers — none of whom were on campus when K-SWOC was founded — have the power to listen to other students and build a new agenda in ways that the old generation might not have considered.” 

K-SWOC and the College will await the NLRB’s decision in the coming weeks.

0 Comments

Comments for this article have closed. If you'd like to send a letter to the editor for publication, please email us at collegian@kenyon.edu.