Section: Letter to the Editor

Letter to the editor: Kenyon should allow vote for union recognition

Dear members of the Kenyon community,

Since August 31, 2020, the Kenyon Student Worker Organizing Committee (K-SWOC) has publicly campaigned for recognition of a union that would give Kenyon student workers an equal seat at the table with the College to negotiate better working conditions, job protections and fairer pay. Over the past eight months, approximately 60% of current student workers have joined K-SWOC, and together we have won many victories to increase pay and save jobs. We have also raised awareness about other issues facing student workers, such as the plight of the yet-to-be-rehired Horn sound technicians and negative changes affecting Community Advisors (CAs), and we will continue to stand with student workers to resolve these issues.

Today, K-SWOC would like to inform the Kenyon community that we have recently offered the Board of Trustees a compromise we hope will result in a mutually beneficial resolution between student workers and the College. We have asked them to agree to hold a community election; a process in which currently employed Kenyon student workers would vote in a secret-ballot election overseen by a trusted third party mutually agreed upon by K-SWOC and the College. Under this proposal, if a majority of ballots cast support unionizing, the College would agree to recognize K-SWOC as a union and commence negotiating to a first contract. Although we believe that we can already demonstrate overwhelming support for a union based on a majority of student workers signing union cards, we are willing to agree to an election so that every student worker can participate in this important decision. This kind of election agreement also has a precedent among private-sector higher education institutions — in 2018, Georgetown University and the Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees (GAGE) signed an election agreement that led to GAGE being recognized as a union after graduate employees voted 555-108 in favor of unionizing. 

Since our campaign began, K-SWOC has dedicated itself to following Kenyon’s mission statement to “engage in spirited, informed, and collaborative inquiry” by reaching out to all members of the Kenyon community — students,  faculty,  staff, alumni and the Board of Trustees — to discuss and deliberate on the effects of student worker unionization. Our focus on community outreach has led to 57 faculty members signing a letter stating that they “do not believe that such a union threatens the integrity of the College, its mission, or the important relations we enjoy with our students.” Over 400 Kenyon alumni have signed an open letter supporting union recognition. The Kenyon maintenance workers in UE Local 712 stand with student workers seeking a union. K-SWOC and community allies have assembled a broad and diverse coalition to support the rights of student workers to unionize and bargain collectively with the College. 

Despite these efforts, there has been an unfortunate breakdown in communication between K-SWOC and the College over union recognition and other important issues affecting student workers. This lack of communication resulted in majorities of student workers within five workplaces, joined by over 100 other student workers, deciding to strike on March 16 to protest unfair labor practices. The strike demonstrated that the relationship between student workers and the College is at a crossroads: The Board of Trustees refuses to recognize K-SWOC, yet a majority of student workers want a real voice in the workplace through a union. Remaining in this stalemate will only result in further polarization between student workers and the College, especially when the administration continues to implement unilateral changes to student working conditions, such as the recent decision to eliminate apartment CA positions and overhaul the CA hiring process. 

In their rejection of union recognition in December, the Board of Trustees expressed a vague concern about whether a student workers union and democratic decision-making on campus were compatible. K-SWOC, which views union democracy as our bedrock principle, absolutely believes these two concepts are not only compatible but intimately connected. That is why we are challenging the Board, if it does in fact care about the democratic rights of student workers, to let student workers decide for themselves through a fair and free election whether or not to form a union. We ask that the members of the Kenyon community support student workers’ right to vote for a union by signing our petition to the Board of Trustees, which is available online at kswoc.org. 

The Steering Committee of the Kenyon Student Worker Organizing Committee (K-SWOC/UE)

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