I am a proud member of the Kenyon Class of 1970. Following my law school graduation in 1978, I joined the United Steelworkers Legal Department in Pittsburgh and remained with USW for 40 years until my retirement in 2018. A year later, I received an honorary doctorate from Kenyon in recognition of my contributions to both the American labor movement and the College. In short, I’m a dedicated trade unionist who loves Kenyon College very deeply.
I was disappointed when Kenyon rejected K-SWOC’s offers to prove its majority support by either a card check or a secret-ballot community election. K-SWOC has now petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a secret-ballot election to prove its majority status. It has requested that the College agree to a stipulated election, a mechanism under the National Labor Relations Act permitting the parties to negotiate the groups of workers eligible to vote in an election, thereby saving the time and expense of an NLRB hearing to determine the composition of the bargaining unit.
Kenyon should enter into a stipulated election agreement for two reasons. First, it is to the College’s advantage to settle the question of union representation as quickly as possible. Second, every dollar Kenyon spends on lawyers is a dollar that cannot be spent on providing an education to Kenyon students.
Kenyon can learn a valuable lesson from the recent unionization experience at Hamilton College. Hamilton is widely regarded as a peer institution of Kenyon, and a substantial admissions overlap exists between the two schools. As Inside Higher Education recently reported, a group of student workers in Hamilton’s admissions office sought union representation by the United Food and Commercial Workers. In the NLRB election held on Oct. 12, the UFCW prevailed by a count of 25 “yes” votes to 20 “no” votes.
The Kenyon administration’s issues with unionization are exactly the same as those raised in Hamilton’s campaign, and even after the UFCW victory, Hamilton made clear in public statements that it preferred not to have its students organized by a union. Nevertheless, as reported by Inside Higher Education, “Hamilton plans to negotiate a contract.” Hamilton’s administration issued this statement after students voted to unionize: “The National Labor Relations Board has counted the ballots and the majority of those admissions student workers who voted selected union representation. Hamilton supports the rights of workers to choose what they believe is best for them.”
Kenyon should issue a similar statement, committing itself to recognizing K-SWOC and bargaining a contract if K-SWOC wins the election. However, it should do so before the election so that all students voting will know that a vote in favor of K-SWOC will not be a futile act. A statement of agreement from Kenyon would be a crucial first step in building a cooperative — rather than adversarial — relationship between the College and the hundreds of students who desire union representation. Of course, it is Kenyon’s own choice as to whether it wishes to pursue a scorched-earth litigation policy exhausting every legal avenue before it sits down to bargain with K-SWOC. Should the College pursue this route, students on campus might rightly interpret this as an outright attempt to ignore their democratic will.
The College’s decision not to enter into a stipulated election agreement and negotiate with K-SWOC if it wins the election will yield the same result, regardless of how the election proceeds. Embittered students will regard the College with resentment, and alumni will remain in a state of permanent alienation.
This is simply too high of a price to pay.
Richard Brean ’70