We are the Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers (UGSDW), Hamilton United Workers (UFCW Local One) and the Wesleyan Union of Student Employees (WesUSE) OPEIU Local 153, together representing over 900 unionized student workers at Grinnell College, Hamilton College and Wesleyan University.
As student workers currently negotiating with our administrations, we have experienced resistance towards our unionization efforts. Recently, we have also seen administrations recognize our commitment to guaranteeing safety, rights, higher wages and dignity in the workplace by agreeing to sit down at the negotiating table with us. This is why we know that Kenyon can do better.
For a long time, student workers have been legally recognized as having the right to unionize. The certifications of undergraduate unions across the country have shown that student workers share the same right to unionize as other workers across the country. Furthermore, after a year when the endowments of wealthy private universities grew by hundreds of millions of dollars, we know that these institutions, which cannot function without student work, can afford fair pay and dignity for student workers.
Grinnell, Hamilton and Wesleyan are all small liberal arts institutions like Kenyon. Like Grinnell, Hamilton and Wesleyan, Kenyon has not just remained financially stable during the pandemic — its endowment has increased by hundreds of millions of dollars. Like Grinnell, Hamilton and Wesleyan, Kenyon is now home to a student worker unionization drive fighting against top-down decision making, fighting for an equal say over working conditions and building a brighter future on its campus.
Hamilton College originally agreed to a stipulated election agreement for admissions workers. That unit went on to unionize by a vote of 25-20 for UFCW. While the College acknowledged the union results, it has — like Kenyon — consistently delayed negotiations and further elections for Resident Advisors and Days-Massolo Center workers. Hamilton’s administration argued that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) should not recognize undergraduate workers as workers. On Friday, April 8, Hamilton’s lawyer terminated the first negotiating session within five minutes, demanding that negotiations occur in person despite not providing a good-faith rationale.
After the admissions vote, Monica Inzer, the vice president for enrollment management at Hamilton, stated: “I trusted [students] to use common sense, but I think the emotion of it got to them and this was an emotional vote… students will vote with emotion instead of rational thinking. I thought the students would be more rational and that more of them would not vote for the union.” Hamilton’s original union drive started due to the admissions office committing wage theft towards some summer tour guides and firing a student worker for requesting a raise. Is anger at that not justified?
Unlike Kenyon and Hamilton, the Grinnell and Wesleyan administrations have negotiated in good faith with student workers. After years of union-busting, Grinnell’s administration sat down and negotiated a Neutrality and Election Agreement, laying the path for an NLRB election that covers all hourly student workers. Similarly, Wesleyan’s administration negotiated a path to recognition for student residential life workers through voluntary recognition by card-check.
To President Decatur and Kenyon’s administration: Kenyon could, like Grinnell and Wesleyan, choose to blaze a new path in higher-education unionization. Student workers everywhere are a part of one movement, and all of us are part of one higher-education community. We know that K-SWOC is led by driven, thoughtful and responsible student workers who are committed to building an equitable student work experience and eager to participate in good-faith negotiations. Our institutions share stated commitments to economic and social justice — it’s long past time for Kenyon’s administration to put those supposed commitments into practice.
To Kenyon student workers and allies: The victories at Grinnell, Hamilton and Wesleyan did not happen spontaneously. They were all results of years of intensive organizing, building solidarity across workers and mass actions of support. We could not have succeeded without strong majorities of students calling on our administrations to take action. We call on all Kenyon students to join in K-SWOC’s fight to create a fairer, more just Kenyon College — and to join the student labor movement that is spreading across the country.
Wesleyan Union of Student Employees, OPEIU Local 153
Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers
Hamilton United Workers – UFCW Local One
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