As an alumnus and former union organizer, I support the efforts of students to form a union of undergraduate workers at Kenyon.
Last year, I was among nearly 50 journalists who came together to unionize the newsroom of a daily newspaper in Virginia. Since then, employees have secured wage increases, severance protections, better parental leave, and the safeguard to not be terminated without just cause. None of this would have been possible without the federal protections that a union affords.
The administration’s objections to a union at Kenyon seem to me shortsighted and, if not disingenuous, at least misinformed. One of the College’s main objections is that a union would conflict with its educational mission. Yet it’s not clear why the basic workplace protections that a union provides would imperil this goal. (In fact, involvement in the nitty-gritty work of a union is just the kind of real-world, “high-impact” learning experience the College would otherwise tout.) Other objections — that a union is a “third party” and would “materially compromise” the relationships among students, faculty and staff, in the administration’s words — are tired, anti-union talking points that are not true. And the particular quibble that a wall-to-wall union is inappropriate for a diverse student workforce begs the question: Would the College support recognizing multiple unions for different student work groups? That seems doubtful.
I am ever grateful for the opportunities, including work-study, that attending Kenyon presented me. Most significantly, Kenyon fostered lifelong friendships. A good union is like such a relationship: It nurtures collegiality and is built on trust and mutual respect.
What a remarkable opportunity Kenyon has to promote itself as home of the first comprehensive undergraduate worker union in the country. I hope the administration can learn to see this.
Henri Gendreau ’16