Students seek title of 'most unionized campus in the country'

A small, independent labor union is looking to make Grinnell College "the most unionized campus in the country" by expanding to represent all of the school's nearly 1,000 student employees.

The Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers currently represents about 100 workers in the campus dining hall, but hopes to add roughly 800 new members when it puts the question to a vote within the next few weeks.

A student employee union wants to make Grinnell College in Iowa the “most unionized campus in the country” by expanding to represent all on-campus student workers.

The Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers (UGSDW) currently represents slightly more than 100 student workers who work in the dining hall, but the organization’s goal is to cover roughly 800 additional members, expanding its membership to more than half of the school’s roughly 1,600 students.

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In an open letter to Grinnell President Raynard Kington, UGSDW President Cory McCartan demands a “commitment to neutrality” from the administration to ensure that the union’s efforts do not face opposition.

“I urge the college to continue this practice, and not to engage in the kind of destructive anti-union tactics that Yale, Harvard, and other universities have,” McCartan implored. “Student workers should be able to decide for themselves, democratically, whether or not they want union representation. To that end, I have enclosed a proposed Neutrality and Card Check Agreement, which I hope the college will sign.”

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The college says under its “core responsibilities” that it has a “strong tradition of self-governance and personal responsibility,” which McCartan cites in support of the unionization effort, along with what he describes as the school’s “long history” of promoting social justice issues.

“We are taking the students’ request very seriously, carefully researching our options and the implications,” Grinnell spokesperson Lisa Lacher told The Des Moines Register. "We want to do what’s best for the students and the college.”

Since its formation in 2016, the UGSDW has successfully negotiated a raise in the base wage rate from $8.50 to $9.50 per hour—along with bonus pay for workers who put in at least 110 hours in a semester—and McCartan told the Register that he thinks it is “high time to bring those benefits of unionization to the rest of campus.”

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The suggested membership dues of $2 per month provide just $61 in revenue, according to the UGSDW’s fiscal year 2017 financial report, which is just one dollar more than the union reports collecting from unspecified “fines” during the same period.

Iowa is a Right-to-Work state, which means that no employee can be forced to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment. The designation also makes it illegal to fire a worker if he or she refuses to join the union or pay its dues.

The UGSDW says it hopes to put the question of expanded membership to a vote within the next few weeks.

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