Grinnell College Student Workers Strike for Campus-Wide Contract as College Circulates False Claims about Legality

Student Workers begin strike amid threats, intimidation from Grinnell College

A photograph of several student workers standing. One holds a sign reading "UGSDW on strike"

GRINNELL, IOWA — Community Advisors (CA) and other student employees at Grinnell College began an indefinite strike on Wednesday, May 10 after 7 months of contract negotiations between the college and the Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers (UGSDW), which represents CAs. In response, Grinnell College issued several threats to Grinnell students and staff, falsely claiming that the strike is unlawful. Student workers picketed all day to protest the college’s inadequate proposals and intimidation of its employees.

The college’s most recent proposal threatens to cut future CA compensation, replacing the CA room grant with hourly pay of $13.25/hr. The college’s proposal for pay has no weekly hour guarantees, meaning there is no assurance CAs will make enough to cover the cost of housing. This is all in the context of compensation that is already well below the industry standard of room and board.

The CAs are demanding compensation of room and board with an option for a stipend of the financial equivalent and hourly pay for training. In addition to CA specific compensation, CAs are tying their strike to contract provisions that impact all student workers, demanding: A minimum campus-wide $15/hr base wage for all student workers The ability to address discrimination and harassment through the grievance process with an independent final decision maker Processes for calling off work/taking sick leave, health and safety/training protections.

Throughout the months of bargaining, student workers have taken action to demand a fair contract with all of UGSDW’s priorities reflected. On March 15, over 70 student workers walked out at 5 pm, closing multiple workplaces including both on-campus libraries. The next week, the college increased its base wage proposal from $11.50 to $13.25. It was only after student workers walked out that the college dropped its proposed exclusion of more than 150 student workers from just cause protections. The walkout proved that action works – and it’s the only way for student workers to win the wages and protections we deserve!

“I am striking because the college needs to recognize that CAs are an integral part of Grinnell College and its residential experience.” Chae Yu, a Community Advisor explains. Hannah Sweet, a Community Advisor and member of UGSDW’s executive board explained, “We are ready to fight for fair compensation both for CAs and for every student worker at Grinnell! We will not back down until our demands are met.”

The college sent an email to all students, staff, and faculty on Tuesday, May 9th, the evening before the strike, falsely characterizing the Union’s planned strike as unlawful. The college’s email stated that “…initiating a strike without having reached impasse is an unlawful strike,” which is a false assertion.

The College also stated that, “In light of these developments [the announcement of the strike], the utility of the collective bargaining mediation session scheduled for 3 p.m. on May 11, 2023, has been called into question.” We have told the College that we intend to continue bargaining with them over the course of this strike, and that we will be at the table this Thursday to continue negotiating for a mutually satisfactory agreement. Our membership authorized a strike because the College has not met our demands. We are committed to bargaining for a fair contract, but the College’s stalling tactics are not representative of their legal obligation to bargain in good faith with us until we either come to an agreement or reach impasse .

Finally, the College stated that “The collective bargaining process has not resulted in a declaration of impasse, and the current contract with dining workers, which is valid through June 30, 2023, contains a no strike clause. The College voluntarily agreed to add Community Advisors (CA) to the Union last fall as part of the bargaining unit. CAs, therefore, may not vote to strike independent of UGSDW.” This statement is misleading. While it is correct that the current contract for dining workers contains a no strike clause, this clause explicitly states that “It will not be a cause for discharge or discipline and it will not be a violation of this Agreement for an employee to refuse to cross a primary labor union picket line at the College’s premises that has been established to support a legal strike, provided the picket line is approved by the Union.” CAs, and other non-dining student workers, are also not currently covered by the College’s contract with the Union. We are bargaining for a new contract that we have agreed will cover the entire unit—including both dining and non-dining student workers. Finally, CAs did not vote to strike independently of UGSDW. The strike was authorized by UGSDW general membership, per its constitutional processes.

UGSDW strongly disagrees with the college’s characterization of the law and will go forward with the strike as planned.

Negotiations between UGSDW and Grinnell College began in October 2022 following an overwhelming vote by student workers to expand the union to represent all student workers in April 2022. While CAs were excluded from voting in that election, the college agreed to voluntarily recognize the full bargaining unit including CAs in August 2022.

At the start of the bargaining process, student workers voted to establish three priorities for UGSDW: a base wage of at least $15, a grievance procedure with independent arbitration and recourse for discrimination and harassment on the job, and just cause for all student workers. The college’s initial proposals included none of these priorities. After months of negotiations, the college updated their proposal to include just cause for every student worker, but still refuses to include discrimination and harassment in the grievance procedure and has indicated that its proposal of a universal wage of $13.25 is its last, best, and final offer. Donate to the UGSDW strike fund to support striking student workers!

UGDSW is the first independent undergraduate labor union in the country, UGSDW fights for fair pay and benefits for all workers at Grinnell College. The union represents over 800 students, or about 50% of the total student population.

Grinnell College is a small, private, liberal arts college located in Grinnell, Iowa. Founded in 1846, Grinnell has been a consistent leader in social justice issues. According to its mission statement, the College “aims to graduate individuals who can think clearly, who can speak and write persuasively and even eloquently, who can evaluate critically both their own and others’ ideas, who can acquire new knowledge, and who are prepared in life and work to use their knowledge and their abilities to serve the common good.”

You can reach UGSDW’s leaders via email ( or on social media (@ugsdw). UGSDW is an independent union run by student workers. Consider supporting our organizing at

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